What could the economic structure of anarchy look like?
What could the economic structure of anarchy look like?
Here we will examine possible frameworks of a libertarian socialist economy. We stress that it is frameworks rather than framework because it is likely that any anarchist society will see a diverse number of economic systems co-existing in different areas, depending on what people in those areas want. “In each locality,” argued Diego Abad de Santillan, “the degree of communism, collectivism or mutualism will depend on the conditions prevailing. Why dictate rules? We who make freedom our banner, cannot deny it in economy. Therefore there must be free experimentation, free show of initiative and suggestions, as well as the freedom of organisation.” As such, anarchism “can be realised in a multiformity of economic arrangements, individual and collective. Proudhon advocated mutualism; Bakunin, collectivism; Kropotkin, communism. Malatesta has conceived the possibility of mixed agreements, especially during the first period.” [After the Revolution, p. 97 and p. 96]
Here, we will highlight and discuss the four major schools of anarchist economic thought: Individualist anarchism, mutualism, collectivism and communism. It is up to the reader to evaluate which school best maximises individual liberty and the good life (as individualist anarchist Joseph LaBadie wisely said, “Anarchism will not dictate to them any explicit rules as to what they must do, but that it opens to them the opportunities of putting into practice their own ideas of enhancing their own happiness.” [The Individualist Anarchists, pp. 260-1]). “Nothing is more contrary to the real spirit of Anarchy than uniformity and intolerance,” argued Kropotkin. “Freedom of development implies difference of development, hence difference of ideas and actions.” Experience, then, is “the best teacher, and the necessary experience can only be gained by entire freedom of action.” [quoted by Ruth Kinna, “Fields of Vision: Kropotkin and Revolutionary Change”, pp. 67-86, SubStance, Vol. 36, No. 2, p. 81] There may, of course, be other economic practices but these may not be libertarian. In Malatesta’s words:
“Admitted the basic principle of anarchism — which is that no-one should wish or have the opportunity to reduce others to a state of subjection and oblige them to work for him — it is clear that all, and only, those ways of life which respect freedom, and recognise that each individual has an equal right to the means of production and to the full enjoyment of the product of his own labour, have anything in common with anarchism.” [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 33]
In addition, it should be kept in mind that in practice it is impossible to separate the economic realm from the social and political realms, as there are numerous interconnections between them: anarchist thinkers like Bakunin argued that the “political” institutions of a free society would be based upon workplace associations while Kropotkin placed the commune at the heart of his vision of a communist-anarchist economy and society. Thus the division between social and economic forms is not clear cut in anarchist theory — as it should be as society is not, and cannot be, considered as separate from or inferior to the economy. An anarchist society will try to integrate the social and economic, embedding the latter in the former in order to stop any harmful externalities associated economic activity being passed onto society. As Karl Polanyi argued, capitalism “means no less than the running of society as an adjunct to the market. Instead of the economy being being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system.” [The Great Transformation, p. 57] Given the negative effects of such an arrangement, little wonder that anarchism seeks to reverse it.
Also, by discussing the economy first we are not implying that dealing with economic domination or exploitation is more important than dealing with other aspects of the total system of domination, e.g. social hierarchies, patriarchal values, racism, etc. We follow this order of exposition because of the need to present one thing at a time, but it would have been equally easy to start with the social and political structure of anarchy. However, Rudolf Rocker is correct to argue that an economic transformation in the economy is an essential aspect of a social revolution:
“[A] social development in this direction [i.e. a stateless society] was not possible without a fundamental revolution in existing economic arrangements; for tyranny and exploitation grow on the same tree and are inseparably bound together. The freedom of the individual is secure only when it rests on the economic and social well-being of all . . . The personality of the individual stands the higher, the more deeply it is rooted in the community, from which arise the richest sources of its moral strength. Only in freedom does there arise in man the consciousness of responsibility for his acts and regard for the rights of others; only in freedom can there unfold in its full strength that most precious of social instinct: man’s sympathy for the joys and sorrows of his fellow men and the resultant impulse toward mutual aid and in which are rooted all social ethics, all ideas of social justice.” [Nationalism and Culture, pp. 147-8]
The aim of any anarchist society would be to maximise freedom and so creative work:
“If it is correct, as I believe it is, that a fundamental element of human nature is the need for creative work or creative inquiry, for free creation without the arbitrary limiting effects of coercive institutions, then of course it will follow that a decent society should maximise the possibilities for this fundamental human characteristic to be realised. Now, a federated, decentralised system of free associations incorporating economic as well as social institutions would be what I refer to as anarcho-syndicalism. And it seems to me that it is the appropriate form of social organisation for an advanced technological society, in which human beings do not have to be forced into the position of tools, of cogs in a machine.” [Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, p. 31]
So, as one might expect, since the essence of anarchism is opposition to hierarchical authority, anarchists totally oppose the way the current economy is organised. This is because authority in the economic sphere is embodied in centralised, hierarchical workplaces that give an elite class (capitalists) dictatorial control over privately owned means of production, turning the majority of the population into order takers (i.e. wage slaves). In contrast, the libertarian-socialist economy will be based on decentralised, egalitarian workplaces in which workers democratically self-manage their productive activity in socially owned means of production.
The key principles of libertarian socialism are decentralisation, self-management, socialisation, voluntary association, and free federation. These principles determine the form and function of both the economic and political systems. In this section we will consider just the economic system. Bakunin gives an excellent overview of such an economy when he wrote that in a free society the “land belongs to only those who cultivate it with their own hands; to the agricultural communes. The capital and all the tools of production belong to the workers; to the workers’ associations.” These associations are often called “co-operatives” and “syndicates” (see section I.3.1 ). This feeds into an essential economic concept for libertarian socialists,“workers’ self-management” This refers to those who do the work managing it, where the land and workplaces are “owned and operated by the workers themselves: by their freely organised federations of industrial and agricultural workers” (see section I.3.2 ). For most anarchists, “socialisation” is the necessary foundation for a free society, as only this ensures universal self-management by allowing free access to the means of production (see section I.3.3  ). Thus an anarchist economy would be based on “the land, tools of production and all other capital” being “converted into collective property of the whole of society and utilised only by the workers, i.e., by their agricultural and industrial associations.” [Bakunin on Anarchy, p. 247, p. 400 and p. 427] As Berkman summarised:
“The revolution abolishes private ownership of the means of production, distribution, and with it goes capitalistic business. Personal possession remains only in the things you use. Thus, your watch is your own, but the watch factory belongs to the people. Land, machinery, and all other public utilities will be collective property, neither to be bought nor sold. Actual use will be considered the only title [in communist anarchism] — not to ownership but to possession. The organisation of the coal miners, for example, will be in charge of the coal mines, not as owners but as the operating agency. Similarly will the railroad brotherhoods run the railroads, and so on. Collective possession, co-operatively managed in the interests of the community, will take the place of personal ownership privately conducted for profit.” [What is Anarchism?, p. 217]
So the solution proposed by social anarchists is society-wide ownership of the means of production and distribution, with each workplace run co-operatively by its members. However, no workplace exists in isolation and would seek to associate with others to ensure it gets the raw materials it needs for production and to see what it produces goes to those who need it. These links would be based on the anarchist principles of free agreement and voluntary federation (see section I.3.4 ). For social anarchists, this would be supplemented by confederal bodies or co-ordinating councils at two levels: first, between all firms in a particular industry; and second, between all industries (including agriculture) throughout the society (section I.3.5  ). Such federations may, depending on the type of anarchism in question, also include people’s financial institutions.
While, for some anarcho-syndicalists, this structure is seen as enough, most communist-anarchists consider that the economic federation should be held accountable to society as a whole (i.e. the economy must be communalised). This is because not everyone in society is a worker (e.g. the young, the old and infirm) nor will everyone belong to a syndicate (e.g. the self-employed), but as they also have to live with the results of economic decisions, they should have a say in what happens. In other words, in communist-anarchism, workers make the day-to-day decisions concerning their work and workplaces, while the social criteria behind these decisions are made by everyone. As anarchist society is based on free access and a resource is controlled by those who use it. It is a decentralised, participatory, self-managed, organisation whose members can secede at any time and in which all power and initiative arises from and flows back to the grassroots level. Such a society combines free association, federalism and self-management with communalised ownership. Free labour is its basis and socialisation exists to complement and protect it. Such a society-wide economic federation of this sort is not the same thing as a centralised state agency, as in the concept of nationalised or state-owned industry.
The exact dynamics of a socialised self-managed system varies between anarchist schools. Most obviously, as discussed in section I.3.6  , while individualists view competition between workplaces as unproblematic and mutualists see its negative aspects but consider it necessary, collectivists and communists oppose it and argue that a free society can do without it. Moreover, socialisation should not be confused with forced collectivisation — individuals and groups will be free not to join a syndicate and to experiment in different forms of economy (see section I.3.7  ). Lastly, anarchists argue that such a system would be applicable to all economies, regardless of size and development, and aim for an economy based on appropriately sized technology (Marxist assertions not withstanding — see section I.3.8  ).
Regardless of the kind of anarchy desired, anarchists all agree on the importance of decentralisation, free agreement and free association. Kropotkin’s summary of what anarchy would look like gives an excellent feel of what sort of society anarchists desire:
“harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilised being.
“In a society developed on these lines . . . voluntary associations . . . would represent an interwoven network, composed of an infinite variety of groups and federations of all sizes and degrees, local, regional, national and international temporary or more or less permanent — for all possible purposes: production, consumption and exchange, communications, sanitary arrangements, education, mutual protection, defence of the territory, and so on; and, on the other side, for the satisfaction of an ever-increasing number of scientific, artistic, literary and sociable needs.
“Moreover, such a society would represent nothing immutable. On the contrary — as is seen in organic life at large – harmony would (it is contended) result from an ever-changing adjustment and readjustment of equilibrium between the multitudes of forces and influences, and this adjustment would be the easier to obtain as none of the forces would enjoy a special protection from the State.” [Anarchism, p. 284]
If this type of system sounds “utopian” it should be kept in mind that it was actually implemented and worked quite well in the collectivist economy organised during the Spanish Revolution of 1936, despite the enormous obstacles presented by an ongoing civil war as well as the relentless (and eventually successful) efforts of Republicans, Stalinists and Fascists to crush it (see section I.8  for an introduction).
As well as this (and other) examples of “anarchy in action” there have been other libertarian socialist economic systems described in writing. All share the common features of workers’ self-management, co-operation and so on we discuss here and in section I.4 . These texts include Syndicalism by Tom Brown, The Program of Anarcho-Syndicalism by G.P. Maximoff, Guild Socialism Restated and Self-Government in Industry by G.D.H. Cole, After the Revolution by Diego Abad de Santillan, Anarchist Economics and Principles of Libertarian Economy by Abraham Guillen, Workers Councils and the Economics of a Self-Managed Society by Cornelius Castoriadis among others. A short summary of Spanish Anarchist visions of the free society can be found in chapter 3 of Robert Alexander’s The Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War (vol. 1). Some anarchists support what is called “Participatory Economics” (Parecon, for short) and The Political Economy of Participatory Economics and Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the Twenty First Century by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel are worth reading as they contain good introductions to that project.
Fictional accounts include William Morris’ News from Nowhere, the excellent The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, Women on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy and The Last Capitalist by Steve Cullen. Iain M. Banks Culture novels are about an anarcho-communist society, but as they are so technologically advanced they can only give an insight into the aims of libertarian socialism and the mentality of people living in freedom (The State of the Art and The Player of Games contrast the Culture with hierarchical societies, the Earth in 1977 in the case of the former).
As we will use the term, a “syndicate” (also called a “producer co-operative”, or “co-operative”, for short, sometimes a “collective”, “producers’ commune”, “association of producers”, “guild factory” or “guild workplace”) is a democratically self-managed productive enterprise whose assets are controlled by its workers. It is a useful generic term to describe the situation aimed at by anarchists where “associations of men and women who . . . work on the land, in the factories, in the mines, and so on, [are] themselves the managers of production.” [Kropotkin, Evolution and Environment, p. 78]
This means that where labour is collective, “the ownership of production should also be collective.” “Each workshop, each factory,” correctly suggested James Guillaume, “will organise itself into an association of workers who will be free to administer production and organise their work as they think best, provided that the rights of each worker are safeguarded and the principles of equality and justice are observed.” This applies to the land as well, for anarchism aims to answer “the question of how best to work the land and what form of possession is best.” It does not matter whether peasants “keep their plots of land and continue to cultivate it with the help of their families” or whether they “take collective possession of the vast tracts of land and work them in common” as “the main purpose of the Revolution” has been achieved, namely that “the land is now the property of those who cultivate it, and the peasants no longer work for the profit of an idle exploiter who lives by their sweat.” Any “former hired hands” will become “partners and share . . . the products which their common labour extracts from the land” as “the Revolution will have abolished agricultural wage slavery and peonage and the agricultural proletariat will consist only of free workers living in peace and plenty.” As with industrial workplaces, the “internal organisation . . . need not necessarily be identical; organisational forms and procedures will vary greatly according to the preferences of the associated workers.” The “administration of the community” could be “entrusted either to an individual or to a commission of many members,” for example, but would always be “elected by all the members.” [“On Building the New Social Order”, pp. 356-79, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 363, p. 359, p. 360 and p. 361]
It must be noted that this libertarian goal of abolishing the hierarchical capitalist workplace and ending wage labour by associating and democratising industry is as old as anarchism itself. Thus we find Proudhon arguing in 1840 that the aim was a society of “possessors without masters” (rather than wage-labourers and tenants “controlled by proprietors”) with “leaders, instructors, superintendents” and so forth being “chosen from the workers by the workers themselves.” “Workers’ Associations are the locus of a new principle and model of production ,” Proudhon argued 18 years later.“There is mutuality,” he went in, “when in an industry, all the workers, instead of working for an owner who pays them and keeps their product, work for one another and thereby contribute to a common product from which they share the profit . . . extend the principle of mutuality that unites the workers of each group to all the Workers’ Associations as a unit, and you will have created a form of civilisation that, from all points of view — political, economic, aesthetic — differs completely from previous civilisations.” In summary: “All associated and all free.” [Property is Theft!, p. 122, p. 119, p. 616 and p. 12]
Nor was this idea invented by Proudhon and other anarchists. Rather, it was first raised by workers themselves and subsequently taken up by the likes of Proudhon and Bakunin. So working class people came up with this fundamental libertarian socialist idea by themselves. The idea that wage labour would be replaced by associated labour was raised in many different countries in the 19th century. In France, it was during the wave of strikes and protests unleashed by the 1830 revolution. That year saw Parisian printers, for example, producing a newspaper (L’Artisan: Journal de la classes ouvriere) which suggested that the only way to stop being exploited by a master was for workers to form co-operatives. During the strikes of 1833, this was echoed by other skilled workers and so co-operatives were seen by many workers as a method of emancipation from wage labour. Proudhon even picked up the term Mutualisme from the workers in Lyon in the early 1840s and their ideas of co-operative credit, exchange and production influenced him as surely as he influenced them. In America, as Chomsky notes, “[i]f we go back to the labour activism from the early days of the industrial revolution, to the working class press in 1850s, and so on, it’s got a real anarchist strain to it. They never heard of European anarchism . . . It was spontaneous. They took for granted wage labour is little different from slavery, that workers should own the mills” [Anarchism Interview] As we noted in section F.8.6 , this was a commonplace response for working class people facing the rise of capitalism.
In many ways a syndicate is similar to a co-operative under capitalism. Indeed, Proudhon pointed to such experiments as examples of what he desired, with “co-operative associations” being a key part of his “general liquidation” of capitalist society. [General Idea of the Revolution, p. 203] Bakunin, likewise, argued that anarchists are “convinced that the co-operative will be the preponderant form of social organisation in the future, in every branch of labour and science.” [Basic Bakunin, p. 153] Therefore, even from the limited examples of co-operatives functioning in the capitalist market, the essential features of a libertarian socialist economy can be seen. The basic economic element, the workplace, will be a free association of individuals who will organise their joint work as equals: “Only associated labour, that is, labour organised upon the principles of reciprocity and co-operation, is adequate to the task of maintaining . . . civilised society.” [Bakunin, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 341]
Co-operation in this context means that the policy decisions related to their association will be based on the principle of “one member, one vote,” with administrative staff elected and held accountable to the workplace as a whole. In the words of economist David Ellerman: “Every enterprise should be legally reconstructured as a partnership of all who work in the enterprise. Every enterprise should be a democratic worker-owned firm.” [The Democratic Worker-Owned Firm, p. 43] Anarchists, unsurprisingly, reject the Leninist idea that state property means the end of capitalism as simplistic and confused. Ownership is a juridical relationship. The real issue is one of management. Do the users of a resource manage it? If so, then we have a real (i.e. libertarian) socialist society. If not, we have some form of class society (for example, in the Soviet Union the state replaced the capitalist class but workers still had no control over their labour or the product of that labour).
Workplace self-management does not mean, as some apologists of capitalism suggest, that knowledge and skill will be ignored and all decisions made by everyone. This is an obvious fallacy, since engineers, for example, have a greater understanding of their work than non-engineers and under workers’ self-management will control it directly:
“we must understand clearly wherein this Guild democracy consists, and especially how it bears on relations between different classes of workers included in a single Guild. For since a Guild includes all the workers by hand and brain engaged in a common service, it is clear that there will be among its members very wide divergences of function, of technical skill, and of administrative authority. Neither the Guild as a whole nor the Guild factory can determine all issues by the expedient of the mass vote, nor can Guild democracy mean that, on all questions, each member is to count as one and none more than one. A mass vote on a matter of technique understood only by a few experts would be a manifest absurdity, and, even if the element of technique is left out of account, a factory administered by constant mass votes would be neither efficient nor at all a pleasant place to work in. There will be in the Guilds technicians occupying special positions by virtue of their knowledge, and there will be administrators possessing special authority by virtue both of skill and ability and of personal qualifications.” [G.D.H. Cole, Guild Socialism Restated, pp. 50-51]
The fact that some decision-making has been delegated in this manner sometimes leads people to ask whether a syndicate would not just be another form of hierarchy. The answer is that it would not be hierarchical because the workers’ assemblies and their councils, open to all workers, would decide what types of decision-making to delegate, thus ensuring that ultimate power rests at the base. Moreover, power would not be delegated. Malatesta clearly indicates the difference between administrative decisions and policy decisions:
“Of course in every large collective undertaking, a division of labour, technical management, administration, etc. is necessary. But authoritarians clumsily play on words to produce a raison d’être for government out of the very real need for the organisation of work. Government, it is well to repeat, is the concourse of individuals who have had, or seized, the right and the means to make laws and to oblige people to obey; the administrator, the engineer, etc., instead are people who are appointed or assume the responsibility to carry out a particular job and so on. Government means the delegation of power, that is the abdication of initiative and sovereignty of all into the hands of a few; administration means the delegation of work, that is tasks given and received, free exchange of services based on free agreement . . . Let one not confuse the function of government with that of an administration, for they are essentially different, and if today the two are often confused, it is only because of economic and political privilege.” [Anarchy, pp. 41-2]
Given that power remains in the hands of the workplace assembly, it is clear that the organisation required for every collective endeavour cannot be equated with government. Also, never forget that administrative staff are elected by and accountable to the rest of an association. If, for example, it turned out that a certain type of delegated decision-making activity was being abused, it could be revoked by the whole workforce. Because of this grassroots control, there is every reason to think that crucial types of decision-making activity which could become a source of power (and so with the potential for seriously affecting all workers’ lives) would not be delegated but would remain with the workers’ assemblies. For example, powers that are now exercised in an authoritarian manner by managers under capitalism, such as those of hiring and firing, introducing new production methods or technologies, changing product lines, relocating production facilities, determining the nature, pace and rhythm of productive activity and so on would remain in the hands of the associated producers and not be delegated to anyone.
New syndicates will be created upon the initiative of individuals within communities. These may be the initiative of workers in an existing syndicate who desire to expand production, or members of the local community who see that the current syndicates are not providing adequately in a specific area of life. Either way, the syndicate will be a voluntary association for producing useful goods or services and would spring up and disappear as required. Therefore, an anarchist society would see syndicates developing spontaneously as individuals freely associate to meet their needs, with both local and confederal initiatives taking place.
While having a common basis in co-operative workplaces, different forms of anarchism see them work in different ways. Under mutualism, workers organise themselves into syndicates and share in its gains and losses. This means that in “the labour-managed firm there is no profit, only income to be divided among members. Without employees the labour-managed firm does not have a wage bill, and labour costs are not counted among the expenses to the subtracted from profit, as they are in the capitalist firm.” The “labour-managed firm does not hire labour. It is a collective of workers that hires capital and necessary materials.” [Christopher Eaton Gunn, Workers’ Self-Management in the United States, pp. 41-2] In this way, Proudhon and his followers argued, exploitation would end and workers would receive the full-product of their labour. This, it should be noted, does not mean that workers consume all the proceeds of sales in personal consumption (i.e., no investment). It means that labour controls what to do with the sales income, i.e., how much to invest and how much to allocate to consumption:
“If Labour appropriated the whole product, that would include appropriating the liabilities for the property used up in the production process in addition to appropriating the produced outputs. Present Labour would have to pay input suppliers (e.g., past labour) to satisfy those liabilities.” [Ellerman, Op. Cit., p. 24]
So under mutualism, surpluses (profits) would be either equally divided between all members of the co-operative or divided unequally on the basis of the type of work done, with the percentages allotted to each type being decided by democratic vote, on the principle of one worker, one vote. Worker co-operatives of this type do have the virtue of preventing the exploitation and oppression of labour by capital, since workers are not hired for wages but, in effect, become partners in the firm. This means that the workers control both the product of their labour (so that the value-added that they produce is not appropriated by a privileged elite) and the work process itself (and so they no longer sell their liberty to others). However, such a limited form of co-operation is rejected by most anarchists. Non-mutualist anarchists argue that this, at best, is but a step in the right direction and the ultimate aim is distribution according to need.
Production for use rather than profit/money is the key concept that distinguishes collectivist and communist forms of anarchism from the competitive mutualism advocated by Proudhon. This is for two reasons. First, because of the harmful effects of markets we indicated in section I.1.3  could make co-operatives become, in effect, “collective capitalists” and compete against each other in the market as ferociously as actual capitalists. As Kropotkin put it, while co-operation had “at its origin” an “essentially mutual aid character”, it “is often described as ‘joint-stock individualism'” and “such as it is now, it undoubtedly tends to breed a co-operative egotism, not only towards the community at large, but also among the co-operators themselves.” [Mutual Aid, p. 214] While he was discussing co-operatives under capitalism, his worries are equally applicable to a mutualist system of competing syndicates. This would also lead to a situation where market forces ensured that the workers involved made irrational decisions (from both a social and individual point of view) in order to survive in the market. For mutualists, this “irrationality of rationality” is the price to be paid to ensure workers receive the full product of their labour and, moreover, any attempt to overcome this problem holds numerous dangers to freedom. Other social anarchists disagree. They think co-operation between workplaces can increase, not reduce, freedom. Second, as discussed in section I.1.4  , distribution according to work does not take into account the different needs of the workers (nor non-workers like the ill, the young and the old). As such, mutualism does not produce what most anarchists would consider a decent society, one where people co-operate to make a decent life for all.
What about entry into a syndicate? In the words of Cole, guilds (syndicates) are “open associations which any man [or woman] may join” but “this does not mean, of course, that any person will be able to claim admission, as an absolute right, into the guild of his choice.” This means that there may be training requirements (for example) and obviously “a man [or woman] clearly cannot get into a Guild unless it needs fresh recruits for its work. [The worker] will have free choice, but only of the available openings.” [Op. Cit., p. 75] As David Ellerman notes, it is important to remember that “the labour market would not exist” in a self-managed economy as labour would “always be the residual claimant.” This means that capital would not be hiring labour as under capitalism, rather workers would be seeking out associations to join. “There would be a job market in the sense of people looking for firms they could join,” Ellerman continues, “but it would not be a labour market in the sense of the selling of labour in the employment contract.” [Op. Cit., p. 91]
All schools of social anarchism, therefore, are based on the use rights resting in the specific syndicate while ownership would be socialised rather than limited to the syndicate’s workers. This would ensure free access to the means of production as new members of a syndicate would have the same rights and power as existing members. If this were not the case, then the new members would be the wage slaves of existing ones and it is precisely to avoid this that anarchists argue for socialisation (see section I.3.3  ). With socialisation, free access is guaranteed and so all workers are in the same position so ensuring self-management and no return to workplace hierarchy.
Obviously, as in any society, an individual may not be able to pursue the work they are most interested in (although given the nature of an anarchist society they would have the free time to pursue it as a hobby). However, we can imagine that an anarchist society would take an interest in ensuring a fair distribution of work and so would try to arrange work sharing if a given work placement is popular (see section I.4.13  on the question of who will do unpleasant work, and for more on work allocation generally, in an anarchist society).
Of course there may be the danger of a syndicate or guild trying to restrict entry from an ulterior motive, as such the exploitation of monopoly power vis-à-vis other groups in society. However, in an anarchist society individuals would be free to form their own syndicates and this would ensure that such activity is self-defeating. In addition, in a non-individualist anarchist system, syndicates would be part of a confederation (see section I.3.4  ). It is a responsibility of the inter-syndicate congresses to assure that membership and employment in the syndicates is not restricted in any anti-social way. If an individual or group of individuals felt that they had been unfairly excluded from a syndicate then an investigation into the case would be organised at the congress. In this way any attempts to restrict entry would be reduced (assuming they occurred to begin with). And, of course, individuals are free to form new syndicates or leave the confederation if they so desire.
With the question of entry into syndicates comes the question of whether there would be enough places for those seeking to work (what could be termed “unemployment”). Ultimately, there are always an objective number of places available in a workplace: there is little point having people join a syndicate if there are no machines or materials for them to work on! Would a self-managed economy ensure that there are enough places available for those who seek them?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, neo-classical economics says no and equally unsurprisingly this conclusion is based not on empirical evidence of real co-operatives but rather on an abstract model developed in 1958. The model is based on deducing the implications of assuming that a labour-managed (“‘Illyrian”) firm will seek to maximise net income per worker rather than, in a capitalist firm, maximising net profit. This results in various perverse results compared to a capitalist firm. This makes a co-operative-based economy extremely unstable and inefficient, as well as leading to co-operatives firing workers when prices rise as this maximises income per (remaining) worker. Thus a co-operative system ends in “producing less output and using less labour than its capitalist counterpart.” [Benjamin Ward, “The Firm in Illyria: Market Syndicalism”, pp. 566-589, The American Economic Review, Vol. 48, No. 4, p. 580]
Of course, it would be churlish to note that, unlike the theory, actual capitalism is marked by extensive unemployment (as noted in section C.1.5  , this is not surprising as it is required to secure bosses’ power over their wage slaves). It would be equally churlish to note that, to quote one Yugoslav economist, this is “a theory whose predictions have absolutely nothing to do with the observed facts.” [Branko Horvat, “The Theory of the Worker-Managed Firm Revisited”, pp. 9-25, Journal of Comparative Economics, vol. 10, no. 1, p. 9] As David Ellerman summarises:
“It might be noted parenthetically that there is a whole academic literature on what is called the ‘Illyrian firm’ . . . The main peculiarity of this model is that it assumes the firm would expel members when that would increase the net income of the surviving members. The resulting short-run perversities have endeared the model to capitalist economists. Yet the Illyrian model had been an academic toy in the grand tradition of much of modern economics. The predicted short-run behaviour has not been observed in Yugoslavia or elsewhere, and worker-managed firms such as the Mondragon co-operatives take membership as a short-run fixed factor . . . Hence we will continue to treat the Illyrian model with its much-deserved neglect.” [Op. Cit., p. 150]
The experience of self-managed collectives during the Spanish Revolution also confirms this, with collectives sharing work equitably in order to avoid laying people off during the harsh economic conditions caused by the Civil War (for example, one collective “adopted a three-day workweek, dividing available work among all those who had worked at the plant — thereby avoiding unemployment — and continued to pay everyone his or her basic salary” [Martha A. Ackelsberg, Free Women of Spain, p. 101]).
We need, therefore, to “appeal to empirical reality and common sense” when evaluating the claim of neo-classical economics on the issue of co-operatives. The “empirical evidence supports” the argument that this model is flawed. There “has been no tendency for workers to lay off co-workers when times are good, neither in Mondragon nor in Yugoslavia. Even in bad times, layoffs are rare.” Unsurprisingly, “in the short run, a worker-managed firm responds in the same fashion as a capitalist firm” and workers are added to the collective to meet increases in demand. [David Schweickart, Against Capitalism, p. 91, p. 92 and p. 93] A conclusion shared by economist Geoffrey M. Hodgson:
“Much of the evidence we do have about the behaviour of real-world worker co-operatives is that they respond to changes in market prices in a similar manner to the capitalist firm . . . Accordingly, the basic assumptions in the model are questioned by the evidence.” [Economics and Utopia, pp. 223-4]
So, as Branko Horvat observes, in spite of the neo-classical analysis producing specific predictions the “mere fact that nothing of the kind has ever been observed in real-world economies leaves them undisturbed.” At most they would say that a “self-managed firm may not behave as the theory predicts, but this is because it behaves irrationally. If something is wrong, it is not the theory but the reality.” Interestingly, though, if you assume that capitalist firms “maximise the rate of profit, profit per unit invested” rather than total profit then neo-classical theory “generates equally absurd results.” That is why the distinction between short and long runs was invented, so that in the short run the amount of capital is fixed. If this is applied to a co-operative, so that “in the short run, the work force is fixed” then the alleged problems with labour-managed workplaces disappear. Needless to say, a real co-operative acts on the assumption that the work force is fixed and as “the workers are no longer hired” this means that the worker-managers “do not fire their colleagues when business is slack; they reduce work time or work for inventories. When the demand temporarily increases, they work overtime or contract outside work.” [Op. Cit., pp. 11-13]
In summary, the neo-classical theory of the labour-managed firm has as much relation to a real co-operative as neo-classical economics generally does to capitalism. Significantly, “Austrian” economists generally accept the neo-classical theory of co-operatives (in part, undoubtedly, as it confirms their dislike of all forms of socialism). Even one as sympathetic to self-management as David L. Prychitko accepts it, simply criticising because it “reduces the firm to a short-run objective function” and “as long as market entry is allowed, the labour-managed market sheds any possible instability problem.” [Markets, Planning and Democracy, p. 81] While correct, this criticism totally misses the point. Yes, in the long run other co-operatives would be set up and this would increase supply of goods, increase employment and so forth, yet this should not blind us to the limitations of the assumptions which drives the neo-classical theory.
To sum up, syndicates are voluntary associations of workers who manage their workplace and their own work. Within the syndicate, the decisions which affect how the workplace develops and changes are in the hands of those who work there. In addition, it means that each section of the workforce manages its own activity and sections and that all workers placed in administration tasks (i.e. “management”) are subject to election and recall by those who are affected by their decisions. The workers’ self-management is discussed in the next section .
Finally, two things. First, as noted in section G.1.3  a few individualist anarchists, although not all, were not opposed to (non-exploitative) wage labour and so did not place co-operatives at the centre of their ideas. This position is very much a minority in the anarchist tradition as it is not consistent with libertarian principles nor likely to end the exploitation of labour (see section G.4.1 ), so making most anarchists think such individualism is not consistent anarchism (see section G.4.2 ). Secondly, it is i mportant to note that individuals who do not wish to join syndicates will be able to work for themselves. There is no “forced collectivisation” under any form of libertarian socialism, because coercing people is incompatible with the basic principles of anarchism. Those who wish to be self-employed will have free access to the productive assets they need, provided that they neither attempt to monopolise more of those assets than they and their families can use by themselves nor attempt to employ others for wages (see section I.3.7 ).
Quite simply, workers’ self-management (sometimes called “workers’ control”) means that all workers affected by a decision have an equal voice in making it, on the principle of “one worker, one vote.” Thus “revolution has launched us on the path of industrial democracy.” [Property is Theft!, p. 12] That is, workers “ought to be the real managers of industries.” [Peter Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, p. 157] This is essential to ensure “a society of equals, who will not be compelled to sell their hands and their brains to those who choose to employ them . . . but who will be able to apply their knowledge and capacities to production, in an organism so constructed as to combine all the efforts for procuring the greatest possible well-being for all, while full, free scope will be left for every individual initiative.” [Kropotkin, Memiors of a Revolutionist, p. 372] As Chomsky put it:
“Compassion, solidarity, friendship are also human needs. They are driving needs, no less than the desire to increase one’s share of commodities or to improve working conditions. Beyond this, I do not doubt that it is a fundamental human need to take an active part in the democratic control of social institutions. If this is so, then the demand for industrial democracy should become a central goal of any revitalised left with a working-class base.” [Radical Priorities, p. 191]
As noted earlier, however, we need to be careful when using the term “workers’ control,” as others use it and give it an entirely different meaning from the one intended by anarchists. Like the terms anarchist and libertarian, it has been co-opted by others to describe less than libertarian schemes.
The first to do so were the Leninists, starting with Lenin, who have used the term “workers’ control” to describe a situation were workers have limited supervision over either the capitalists or the appointed managers of the so-called workers’ state. These do not equate to what anarchists aim for and, moreover, such limited experiments have not lasted long (see section H.3.14 ). More recently, “workers’ control” has been used by capitalists to describe schemes in which workers’ have more say in how their workplaces are run while maintaining wage slavery (i.e. capitalist ownership, power and ultimate control). So, in the hands of capitalists, “workers’ control” is now referred to by such terms as “participation”, “co-determination”, “consensus”, “empowerment”, “Japanese-style management,” etc. “For those whose function it is to solve the new problems of boredom and alienation in the workplace in advanced industrial capitalism, workers’ control is seen as a hopeful solution”, Sam Dolgoff noted, “a solution in which workers are given a modicum of influence, a strictly limited area of decision-making power, a voice at best secondary in the control of conditions of the workplace. Workers’ control, in a limited form sanctioned by the capitalists, is held to be the answer to the growing non-economic demands of the workers.” [The Anarchist Collectives, p. 81]
The new managerial fad of “quality circles” — meetings where workers are encouraged to contribute their ideas on how to improve the company’s product and increase the efficiency with which it is made — is an example of “workers’ control” as conceived by capitalists. However, when it comes to questions such as what products to make, where to make them, and (especially) how revenues from sales should be divided, capitalists and managers do not ask for or listen to workers’ “input.” So much for “democratisation,” “empowerment,” and “participation”! In reality, capitalistic “workers control” is merely an another insidious attempt to make workers more willing and “co-operative” partners in their own exploitation. Needless to say, such schemes are phoney as they never place real power in the hands of workers. In the end, the owners and their managers have the final say (and so hierarchy remains) and, of course, profits are still extracted from the workforce.
Hence anarchists prefer the term workers’ self-management, a concept which refers to the exercise of workers’ power through collectivisation and federation. It means “a transition from private to collective ownership” which, in turn, “call[s] for new relationships among the members of the working community.” [Abel Paz, The Spanish Civil War, p. 55] Self-management in this sense “is not a new form of mediation between the workers and their capitalist bosses, but instead refers to the very process by which the workers themselves overthrow their managers and take on their own management and the management of production in their own workplace. Self-management means the organisation of all workers . . . into a workers’ council or factory committee (or agricultural syndicate), which makes all the decisions formerly made by the owners and managers.” [Dolgoff, Op. Cit., p. 81] Self-management means the end of hierarchy and authoritarian social relationships in the workplace and their replacement by free agreement, collective decision-making, direct democracy, social equality and libertarian social relationships.
As anarchists use the term, workers’ self-management means collective worker ownership, control and direction of all aspects of production, distribution and investment. This is achieved through participatory-democratic workers’ assemblies, councils and federations, in both agriculture and industry. These bodies would perform all the functions formerly reserved for capitalist owners, managers, executives and financiers where these activities actually relate to productive activity rather than the needs to maximise minority profits and power (in which case they would disappear along with hierarchical management). These workplace assemblies will be complemented by people’s financial institutions or federations of syndicates which perform all functions formerly reserved for capitalist owners, executives, and financiers in terms of allocating investment funds or resources.
Workers’ self-management is based around general meetings of the whole workforce, held regularly in every industrial or agricultural syndicate. These are the source of and final authority over decisions affecting policy within the workplace as well as relations with other syndicates. These meetings elect workplace councils whose job is to implement the decisions of these assemblies and to make the day to day administration decisions that will crop up. These councils are directly accountable to the workforce and its members subject to re-election and instant recall. It is also likely that membership of these councils will be rotated between all members of the syndicate to ensure that no one monopolises an administrative position. In addition, smaller councils and assemblies would be organised for divisions, units and work teams as circumstances dictate.
In this way, workers would manage their own collective affairs together, as free and equal individuals. They would associate together to co-operate without subjecting themselves to an authority over themselves. Their collective decisions would remain under their control and power. This means that self-management creates “an organisation so constituted that by affording everyone the fullest enjoyment of his [or her] liberty, it does not permit anyone to rise above the others nor dominate them in any way but through the natural influence of the intellectual and moral qualities which he [or she] possesses, without this influence ever being imposed as a right and without leaning upon any political institution whatever.“ [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 271] Only by convincing your fellow associates of the soundness of your ideas can those ideas become the agreed plan of the syndicate. No one is in a position to impose their ideas simply because of the post they hold or the work they do.
Most anarchists think that it is likely that purely administrative tasks and decisions would be delegated to elected individuals in this way, freeing workers and assemblies to concentrate on important activities and decisions rather than being bogged down in trivial details. As Bakunin put it:
“Is not administrative work just as necessary to production as is manual labour — if not more so? Of course, production would be badly crippled, if not altogether suspended, without efficient and intelligent management. But from the standpoint of elementary justice and even efficiency, the management of production need not be exclusively monopolised by one or several individuals. And managers are not at all entitled to more pay. The co-operative workers associations have demonstrated that the workers themselves, choosing administrators from their own ranks, receiving the same pay, can efficiently control and operate industry. The monopoly of administration, far from promoting the efficiency of production, on the contrary only enhances the power and privileges of the owners and their managers.” [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 424]
What is important is that what is considered as important or trivial, policy or administration rests with the people affected by the decisions and subject to their continual approval. Anarchists do not make a fetish of direct democracy and recognise that there are more important things in life than meetings and voting! While workers’ assemblies play the key role in self-management, they are not the focal point of all decisions. Rather it is the place where all the important policy decisions are made, administrative decisions are ratified or rejected and what counts as a major decision determined. Needless to say, what are considered as important issues will be decided upon by the workers themselves in their assemblies.
Unsurprisingly, anarchists argue that, as well as being more free, workers self-management is more efficient and productive than the hierarchical capitalist firm (efficiency here means accomplishing goals without wasting valued assets). Capitalist firms fail to tap humanity’s vast reservoir of practical knowledge, indeed they block it as any application of that knowledge is used to enrich the owners rather than those who generate and use it. Thus the hierarchical firm disenfranchises employees and reduces them to the level of order-takers with an obvious loss of information, knowledge and insight (as discussed in section I.1.1  ). With self-management, that vast source of knowledge and creativity can be expressed. Thus, self-management and worker ownership “should also reap other rewards through the greater motivation and productivity of the workers.” [David Ellerman, The Democratic Worker-Owned Firm, p. 139]
This explains why some firms try to simulate workers’ control (by profit-sharing or “participation” schemes). For, as market socialist David Schweickart notes, “the empirical evidence is overwhelming” and supports those who argue for workers’ participation. The “evidence is strong that both worker participation in management and profit sharing tend to enhance productivity and that worker-run enterprises often are more productive than their capitalist counterparts.” [Against Capitalism, p. 100] In fact, 94% of 226 studies into this issue showed a positive impact, with 60% being statistically significant, and so the empirical evidence is “generally supportive of a positive link between profit sharing and productivity.” This applies to co-operatives as well. [Martin L. Weitzman and Douglas L. Kruse, “Profit Sharing and Productivity”, pp. 95-140, Paying for Productivity, Alan S. Blinder (ed.), p. 137, p. 139 and pp. 131-2] Another study concludes that the “available evidence is strongly suggestive that for employee ownership . . . to have a strong impact on performance, it needs to be accompanied by provisions for worker participation in decision making.” In addition, “narrow differences in wages and status”, as anarchists have long argued, “increase productivity”. [David I. Levine and Laura D’Andrea Tyson, “Participation, Productivity, and the Firm’s Environment”, pp. 183-237, Op. Cit., p. 210 and p. 211]
This should be unsurprising, for as Geoffrey M. Hodgson notes, the neo-classical model of co-operatives “wrongly assume[s] that social relations and technology are separable . . . Yet we have much evidence . . . to support the contention that participation and co-operation can increase technological efficiency. Production involves people — their ideas and aspirations — and not simply machines operating under the laws of physics. It seems that, in their search for pretty diagrams and tractable mathematical models, mainstream economists often forget this.” [Economics and Utopia, p. 223]
Therefore anarchists have strong evidence to support Herbert Read’s comment that libertarian socialism would “provide a standard of living far higher than that realised under any previous form of social organisation.” [Anarchy and Order, p. 49] It confirms Cole’s comment that the “key to real efficiency is self-government; and any system that is not based upon self-government is not only servile, but also inefficient. Just as the labour of the wage-slave is better than the labour of the chattel-slave, so . . . will the labour of the free man [and woman] be better than either.” [Self-Government in Industry, p. 157] Yet it is important to remember, as important as this evidence is, real social change comes not from “efficiency” concerns but from ideals and principles. While anarchists are confident that workers’ self-management will be more efficient and productive than capitalism, this is a welcome side-effect of the deeper goal of increasing freedom. The evidence confirms that freedom is the best solution for social problems but if, for example, slavery or wage-labour proved to be more productive than free, associated, labour it does not make them more desirable!
A self-managed workplace, like a self-managed society in general, does not mean that specialised knowledge (where it is meaningful) will be neglected or not taken into account. Quite the opposite. Specialists (i.e. workers who are interested in a given area of work and gain an extensive understanding of it) are part of the assembly of the workplace, just like other workers. They can and have to be listened to, like anyone else, and their expert advice included in the decision making process. Anarchists do not reject the idea of expertise nor the rational authority associated with it. As we indicated in section B.1 , anarchists recognise the difference between being an authority (i.e. having knowledge of a given subject) and being in authority (i.e. having power over someone else). As discussed in section H.4 , we reject the latter and respect the former.
Such specialisation does not imply the end of self-management, but rather the opposite. “The greatest intelligence,” Bakunin argued, “would not be equal to a comprehension of the whole. Thence results, for science as well as industry, the necessity of the division and association of labour.” [God and the State, p. 33] Thus specialised knowledge is part of the associated workers and not placed above them in positions of power. The other workers in a syndicate can compliment the knowledge of the specialists with the knowledge of the work process they have gained by working and so enrich the decision. Knowledge is distributed throughout society and only a society of free individuals associated as equals and managing their own activity can ensure that it is applied effectively (part of the inefficiency of capitalism results from the barriers to knowledge and information flow created by its hierarchical workplace).
A workplace assembly is perfectly able to listen to an engineer, for example, who suggests various ways of reaching various goals (i.e. if you want X, you would have to do A or B. If you do A, then C, D and E is required. If B is decided upon, then F, G, H and I are entailed). But it is the assembly, not the engineer, that decides the goals and methods to be implemented. As Cornelius Castoriadis put it: “We are not saying: people will have to decide what to do, and then technicians will tell them how to do it. We say: after listening to technicians, people will decide what to do and how to do it. For the how is not neutral — and the what is not disembodied. What and how are neither identical, nor external to each other. A ‘neutral’ technique is, of course, an illusion. A conveyor belt is linked to a type of product and a type of producer — and vice versa.” [Social and Political Writings, vol. 3, p. 265]
However, we must stress that while an anarchist society would “inherit” a diverse level of expertise and specialisation from class society, it would not take this as unchangeable. Anarchists argue for “all-round” (or integral) education as a means of ensuring that everyone has a basic knowledge or understanding of science, engineering and other specialised tasks. As Bakunin argued, “in the interests of both labour and science . . . there should no longer be either workers or scholars but only human beings.” Education must “prepare every child of each sex for the life of thought as well as for the life of labour.” [The Basic Bakunin, p. 116 and p. 119] This does not imply the end of all specialisation (individuals will, of course, express their individuality and know more about certain subjects than others) but it does imply the end of the artificial specialisation developed under capitalism which tries to deskill and disempower the wage worker by concentrating knowledge into hands of management.
And, just to state the obvious, self-management does not imply that the mass of workers decide on the application of specialised tasks. Self-management implies the autonomy of those who do the work as well as collective decision making on collective issues. For example, in a self-managed hospital the cleaning staff would not have a say in the doctors’ treatment of patients just as the doctors would not tell the cleaners how to do their work (of course, it is likely that an anarchist society will not have people whose work is simply to clean and nothing else, we just use this as an example people will understand). All members of a syndicate would have a say in what happens in the workplace as it affects them collectively, but individual workers and groups of workers would manage their own activity within that collective.
Needless to say, self-management abolishes the division of labour inherent in capitalism between order takers and order givers. It integrates (to use Kropotkin’s words) brain work and manual work by ensuring that those who do the work also manage it and that a workplace is managed by those who use it. Such an integration of labour will, undoubtedly, have a massive impact in terms of productivity, innovation and efficiency. As Kropotkin argued, the capitalist firm has a negative impact on those subject to its hierarchical and alienating structures:
“The worker whose task has been specialised by the permanent division of labour has lost the intellectual interest in his [or her] labour, and it is especially so in the great industries; he has lost his inventive powers. Formerly, he [or she] invented very much . . . But since the great factory has been enthroned, the worker, depressed by the monotony of his [or her] work, invents no more.” [Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, p. 171]
Must all the skills, experience and intelligence that every one has be swept away or crushed by hierarchy? Or could it not become a new fertile source of progress under a better organisation of production? Self-management would ensure that the independence, initiative and inventiveness of workers (which disappears under wage slavery) comes to the fore and is applied. Combined with the principles of “all-round” (or integral) education (see section J.5.13 ) who can deny that working people could transform the current economic system to ensure “well-being for all”? And we must stress that by “well-being” we mean well-being in terms of meaningful, productive activity in humane surroundings and using appropriate technology, in terms of goods of utility and beauty to help create strong, healthy bodies and in terms of surroundings which are inspiring to live in and ecologically integrated.
Little wonder Kropotkin argued that self-management and the “erasing [of] the present distinction between the brain workers and manual worker” would see “social benefits” arising from “the concordance of interest and harmony so much wanted in our times of social struggles” and “the fullness of life which would result for each separate individual, if he [or she] were enabled to enjoy the use of both . . . mental and bodily powers.” This is in addition to the “increase of wealth which would result from having . . . educated and well-trained producers.” [Op. Cit., p. 180]
Let us not forget that today workers do manage their own working time to a considerable extent. The capitalist may buy a hour of a workers’ time but they have to ensure that the worker follows their orders during that time. Workers resist this imposition and this results in considerable shop-floor conflict. Frederick Taylor, for example, introduced his system of “scientific management” in part to try and stop workers managing their own working activity. As David Noble notes, workers “paced themselves for many reason: to keep time for themselves, to avoid exhaustion, to exercise authority over their work, to avoid killing so-called gravy piece-rate jobs by overproducing and risking a pay cut, to stretch out available work for fear of layoffs, to exercise their creativity, and, last but not least, to express their solidarity and their hostility to management.” These were “[c]oupled with collective co-operation with their fellows on the floor” and “labour-prescribed norms of behaviour” to achieve “shop floor control over production.” [Forces of Production, p. 33] This is why working to rule” is such an efficient weapon in the class struggle (see section H.4.4 ) In other words, workers naturally tend towards self-management anyway and it is this natural movement towards liberty during work hours which is combated by bosses (who wins, of course, depends on objective and subjective pressures which swing the balance of power towards labour or capital).
Self-management will build upon this already existing unofficial workers control over production and, of course, our knowledge of the working process which actually doing it creates. The conflict over who controls the shop floor — either those who do the work or those who give the orders — not only shows that self-management is possible but also show how it can come about as it brings to the fore the awkward fact that while the bosses need us, we do not need them!
A key aspect of anarchism is the socialisation of the means of life. This means that the land, housing, workplaces and so forth become common property, usable by all who need them. Thus Emma Goldman’s summary:
“That each and every individual is and ought to be free to own himself and to enjoy the full fruit of his labour; that man is absolved from all allegiance to the kings of authority and capital; that he has, by the very fact of his being, free access to the land and all means of production, and entire liberty of disposing of the fruits of his efforts; that each and every individual has the unquestionable right of free and voluntary association with other equally sovereign individuals for economic, political, social, and other purposes, and that to achieve this end man must emancipate himself from the sacredness of property, the respect for man-made law, the fear of the Church, the cowardice of public opinion, the stupid arrogance of national, racial, religious, and sex superiority, and from the narrow puritanical conception of human life.” [A Documentary History of the American Years, vol. 2, pp. 450-1]
This is required because private ownership of collectively used “property” (such as workplaces and land) results in a situation where the many have to sell their labour (i.e., liberty) to the few who own it. This creates hierarchical and authoritarian social relationships as well as economic classes. For anarchists, society cannot be divided into “a possessing and a non-possessing” class system as this is “a condition of social injustice” as well as making the state “indispensable to the possessing minority for the protection of its privileges.” [Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 11] In other words, “as long as land and capital are unappropriated, the workers are free, and that, when these have a master, the workers also are slaves.” [Charlotte M. Wilson, Anarchist Essays, p. 21]
While there is a tendency by state socialists and the right to equate socialisation with nationalisation, there are key differences which the different names signify. Nationalisation, in practice and usually in theory, means that the means of life become state property. This means that rather than those who need and use a specific part of the co-operative commonwealth deciding what to do with it, the government does. As we discussed in section B.3.5  this would just be state capitalism, with the state replacing the current capitalist and landlords.
As Emma Goldman argued, there is a clear difference between socialisation and nationalisation. “The first requirement of Communism,” she argued, “is the socialisation of the land and of the machinery of production and distribution. Socialised land and machinery belong to the people, to be settled upon and used by individuals and groups according to their needs.” Nationalisation, on the other hand, means that a resource “belongs to the state; that is, the government has control of it and may dispose of it according to its wishes and views.” She stressed that “when a thing is socialised, every individual has free access to it and may use it without interference from anyone.” When the state owned property, “[s]uch a state of affairs may be called state capitalism, but it would be fantastic to consider it in any sense communistic.” [Red Emma Speaks, pp. 406-7]
Socialisation aims at replacing property rights by use rights. The key to understanding socialisation is to remember that it is about free access. In other words, that every one has the same rights to the means of life as everyone else, that no one is exploited or oppressed by those who own the means of life. In the words of Herbert Read:
“The essential principle of anarchism is that mankind has reached a stage of development at which it is possible to abolish the old relationship of master-man (capitalist-proletarian) and substitute a relationship of egalitarian co-operation. This principle is based, not only on ethical ground, but also on economic grounds.” [Anarchy and Order, p. 92]
This implies two things. Firstly, that the means of life are common property, without an owning class. Secondly, there is free association between equals within any association and so industrial democracy (or self-management).
This has been an anarchist position as long as anarchism has been called anarchism. Thus we find Proudhon arguing in 1840 that “the land is indispensable to our existence” and “consequently a common thing, consequently insusceptible of appropriation” and that “all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor.” This means that “all property “ must become “collective and undivided.” Without this there is inequality and a restriction of freedom as the worker lives on the“benevolence” proprietor “to whom he has sold and surrendered his liberty.” The “civilised labourer who bakes a loaf that he may eat a slice of bread . . . is not free. His employer . . . is his enemy.” In fact, “neither a commercial, nor an industrial, nor an agricultural association can be conceived of in the absence of equality.” The aim was a society of “possessors without masters” rather than wage-labourers and tenants “controlled by proprietors.” Within any economic association there would be democracy, with “leaders, instructors, superintendents” and so forth being “chosen from the labourers by the labourers themselves, and must fulfil the conditions of eligibility. It is the same with all public functions, whether of administration or instruction.” [Property is Theft!, p. 105, p. 118, p. 137, p. 117, p. 7, p. 129, p. 122 and p. 119]
So “under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership” with “democratically organised workers associations.” Workplaces “are the common and undivided property of all those who take part therein” rather than “companies of stockholders who plunder the bodies and souls of the wage workers.” This meant free access, with “every individual employed in the association” having “an undivided share in the property of the company” and has “a right to fill any position” as “all positions are elective, and the by-laws subject to the approval of the members.” Each member “shall participate in the gains and in the losses of the company, in proportion to his [or her] services.” [Op. Cit, p. 377 and pp. 584-5] Proudhon’s idea of free credit from a People’s Bank, it should be noted, is another example of free access, of socialisation. Needless to say, anarchists like Bakunin and Kropotkin based their arguments for socialisation on this vision of self-managed workplaces and free access to the means of life. For Bakunin, for example, “the land, the instruments of work and all other capital may become the collective property of the whole of society and be utilised only by the workers, on other words, by the agricultural and industrial associations.” [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 174]
So the means of production are socialised in the mutualism, collectivism and communism and all rest on the same principle of equal access. So when someone joins an existing workers association they become full members of the co-operative, with the same rights and duties as existing members. In other words, they participate in the decisions on a basis of one person, one vote. How the products of that association are distributed vary in different types of anarchism, but the associations that create them are rooted in the free association of equals. In contrast, a capitalist society places the owner in the dominant position and new members of the workforce are employees and so subordinate members of an organisation which they have no say in (see section B.1  ).
Socialisation would mean that workplaces would become “small worker republics.” [Proudhon, Property is Theft!, p. 780] As economist David Ellerman explains, the democratic workplace “is a social community, a community of work rather than a community residence. It is a republic, or res publica of the workplace. The ultimate governance rights are assigned as personal rights . . . to the people who work in the firm . . . This analysis shows how a firm can be socialised and yet remain ‘private’ in the sense of not being government-owned.” As noted in section I.3.1 , this means the end of the labour market as there would be free access to workplaces and so workers would not be wage-labourers employed by bosses. Instead, there would be a people seeking associations to join and associations seeking new associates to work with. “Instead of abolishing the employment relation,” Ellerman argues, “state socialism nationalised it . . . Only the democratic firm — where the workers are jointly self-employed — is a genuine alternative to private or public employment.” [The Democratic Worker-Owned Firm, p. 76 and p. 209]
So libertarian socialism is based on decentralised decision making within the framework of socially-owned but independently-run and worker-self-managed syndicates. The importance of socialisation should not be downplayed. This is because the self-management of work is not sufficient in and of itself to ensure an anarchist society. Under feudalism, the peasants managed their own labour but such a regime was hardly libertarian for, at a minimum, the peasants paid the landlord rent. An industrial equivalent can be imagined, where workers hire workplaces and land from capitalists and landlords. As left-wing economist Geoffrey M. Hodgson suggests:
“Assume that the workers are self-employed but do not own all the means of production. In this case there still may be powerful owners of factories, offices and machines . . . the owners of the means of production would still receive an income, emanating from that ownership. In bargaining with these owners, the workers would be required to concede the claim of these owners to an income, as they would be unable to produce without making use of the means of production owned by others. Hence the workers would still be deprived of . . . ‘surplus value’. Profits would still derive from ownership of the means of production.” [Economics and Utopia, p. 168]
This would not be (libertarian) socialism (as workers would still be exploited) nor would it be capitalism (as there is no wage labour as such, although there would be a proletariat). Thus genuine anarchism requires socialisation of the means of life, which ensures free access (no usury). In other words, self-management (while an essential part of anarchism) is not sufficient to make a society anarchistic. Without socialism (free access to the means of life) it would be yet another class system and rooted in exploitation. To eliminate all exploitation, social anarchists propose that productive assets such as workplaces and land be owned by society as a whole and run by syndicates and self-employed individuals. Thus Kropotkin: “Free workers, on free land, with free machinery, and freely using all the powers given to man by science.” [Act for Yourselves, p. 102]
This vision of socialisation, of free access, also applies to housing. Proudhon, for example, suggested that payments of rent in housing under capitalism would be “carried over to the account of the purchase of the property” and once paid for the house “shall pass under the control of the communal administration . . . in the name of all the tenants, and shall guarantee them all a domicile, in perpetuity, at the cost of the building.” Rented farm land would be the same and would, once paid for, “revert immediately to the commune, which shall take the place of the former proprietor.” Provision “shall be made for the supervision of the communes, for the installation of cultivators, and for the fixing of the boundaries of possessions.” [Op. Cit., p. 576 and p. 578] Kropotkin had a similar end in mind, namely “the abolition of rent”, but by different means, namely by “the expropriation of houses” during a social revolution. This would be “the communalising of houses and the right of each family to a decent dwelling.” [The Conquest of Bread, p. 91 and p. 95]
It is important to note here that while anarchists tend to stress communes (see section I.5 ) this does not imply communal living in the sense of one-big family. As Kropotkin, for example, was at pains to stress such continual communal living is “repugnant to millions of human beings. The most reserved man [and woman] certainly feels the necessity of meeting his [or her] fellows for the pursue of common work . . . But it is not so for the hours of leisure, reserved for rest and intimacy.” Communal living in the sense of a human bee-hive “can please some, and even all at a certain period of their life, but the great mass prefers family life (family life of the future, be it understood). They prefer isolated apartments.” A community living together under one roof “would be hateful, were it the general rule. Isolation, alternating with time spent in society, is the normal desire of human nature.” [Op. Cit., pp. 123-4] Thus the aim is “Communism, but not the monastic or barrack-room Communism formerly advocated [by state socialists], but the free Communism which places the products reaped or manufactured at the disposal of all, leaving to each the liberty to consume them as he pleases in his [or her] own home.” [The Place of Anarchism in the Evolution of Socialist Thought, p. 7] Needless to say, each household, like each workplace, would be under the control of its users and socialisation exists to ensure that remains the case (i.e., that people cannot become tenants/subjects of landlords).
See section I.6  for a discussion of how socialisation and free access could work.
Beyond this basic vision of self-management and socialisation, the schools of anarchism vary. Mutualism eliminates wage labour and unites workers with the means of production they use. Such a system is socialist as it is based on self-management and workers’ control/ownership of the means of production. However, other social anarchists argue that such a system is little more than “petit-bourgeois co-operativism” in which the worker-owners of the co-operatives compete in the marketplace with other co-operatives for customers, profits, raw materials, etc. — a situation that could result in many of the same problems that arise under capitalism or even a return to capitalism (see section I.1.3 ). Some Mutualists recognise this danger. Proudhon, as discussed in section I.3.5 , advocated an agro-industrial federation to combat the effects of market forces in generating inequality and wage labour. In addition, supporters of mutualism can point to the fact that existing co-operatives rarely fire their members and are far more egalitarian in nature than corresponding capitalist firms. This they argue will ensure that mutualism will remain socialist, with easy credit available to those who are made unemployed to start their own co-operatives again.
In contrast, within anarcho-collectivism and anarcho-communism society as a whole owns the means of life, which allows for the elimination of both competition for survival and the tendency for workers to develop a proprietary interest in the enterprises in which they work. As Kropotkin argued, “[t]here is no reason why the factory . . . should not belong to the community . . . It is evident that now, under the capitalist system, the factory is the curse of the village, as it comes to overwork children and to make paupers of its male inhabitants; and it is quite natural that it should be opposed by all means by the workers . . . But under a more rational social organisation, the factory would find no such obstacles; it would be a boon to the village.” Needless to say, such a workplace would be based on workers’ self-management, as “the workers . . . ought to be the real managers of industries.” [Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, p. 152 and p. 157] This “socially organised industrial production” (to use Kropotkin’s term) would ensure a decent standard of living without the problems associated with a market, even a non-capitalist one.
In other words, the economy is communalised, with land and the means of production being turned into common “property”. The community determines the social and ecological framework for production while the workforce makes the day-to-day decisions about what to produce and how to do it. This is because a system based purely on workplace assemblies effectively disenfranchises those individuals who do not work but live with the effects of production (e.g., ecological disruption). In Murray Bookchin’s words, the aim would be to advance “a holistic approach to an ecologically oriented economy” with key policy decisions “made by citizens in face-to-face assemblies — as citizens, not simply as workers, farmers, or professionals . . . As citizens, they would function in such assemblies by their highest level — their human level — rather than as socially ghettoised beings. They would express their general human interests, not their particular status interests.” These communalised economies would join with others “into a regional confederal system. Land, factories, and workshops would be controlled by the popular assemblies of free communities, not by a nation-state or by worker-producers who might very well develop a proprietary interest in them.” [Remaking Society, p. 194]
An important difference between workplace and community assemblies is that the former can be narrow in focus while the latter can give a hearing to solutions that bring out the common ground of people as people rather than as workers in a specific workplace or industry. This would be in the context of communal participation, through face-to-face voting of the whole community in local neighbourhood and confederal assemblies, which will be linked together through voluntary federations. It does not mean that the state owns the means of production, as under Marxism-Leninism or social democracy, because there is no state under libertarian socialism (for more on community assemblies, see section I.5 ).
This means that when a workplace is communalised workers’ self-management is placed within the broader context of the community, becoming an aspect of community control. This does not mean that workers’ do not control what they do or how they do it. Rather, it means that the framework within which they make their decisions is determined by the community. For example, the local community may decide that production should maximise recycling and minimise pollution, and workers informed of this decision make investment and production decisions accordingly. In addition, consumer groups and co-operatives may be given a voice in the confederal congresses of syndicates or even in the individual workplaces (although it would be up to local communities to decide whether this would be practical or not). In these ways, consumers could have a say in the administration of production and the type and quality of the product, adding their voice and interests in the creation as well as the consumption of a product.
Given the general principle of social ownership and the absence of a state, there is considerable leeway regarding the specific forms that collectivisation might take — for example, in regard to methods of distribution, the use or non-use of money, etc. — as can be seen by the different systems worked out in various areas of Spain during the Revolution of 1936-39. Nevertheless, freedom is undermined when some communities are poor while others are wealthy. Therefore the method of surplus distribution must insure that all communities have an adequate share of pooled revenues and resources held at higher levels of confederation as well as guaranteed minimum levels of public services and provisions to meet basic human needs. That is why anarchists have supported the need for syndicates and communities to federate (see next section )
Finally, one key area of disagreement between anarchist schools is how far socialisation should go. Mutualists think that it should only include the means of production while communist-anarchists argue that socialisation, to be consistent, must embrace what is produced as well as what produced it. Collectivist-anarchists tend to agree with mutualists on this, although many think that, over time, the economy would evolve into communism as the legacies of capitalism and scarcity are overcome. Proudhon spoke for the mutualists:
“This, then, is the first point settled: property in product, if we grant so much, does not carry with it property in the means of production; that seems to me to need no further demonstration . . . all . . . are proprietors of their products — not one is proprietor of the means of production. The right to product is exclusive — jus in re; the right to means is common — jus ad rem.” [Property is Theft!, p. 112]
For libertarian communists, socialisation should be extended to the products of labour as well. This means that as well as having free access to the means of production, people would also have free access to the goods and services produced by them. Again, this does not imply people having to share the possessions they use. Rather it means that instead of having to buy the goods in question they are distributed freely, according to need. To maintain socialisation of the means of product but not in goods means basing society “on two absolutely opposed principles, two principles that contradict one another continually.” [Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread, p. 163] The need is to go beyond the abolition of wage labour into the abolition of money (the wages system). This is because any attempt at measuring a person’s contribution to society will be flawed and, more importantly, people “differ from one another by the amount of their needs. There is the young unmarried woman and the mother of a family of five or six children. For the employer of our days there is no consideration of the needs of” each and “the labour cheque . . . acts in the same way.” [Kropotkin, Act For Yourselves, pp. 108-9]
Regardless of precisely which mode of distribution specific individuals, workplaces, communes or areas picks, socialisation would be underlying all. Free access to the means of production will ensure free individuals, including the freedom to experiment with different anarchistic economic systems.
Just as individuals associate together to work on and overcome common problems, so would syndicates. Few, if any, workplaces are totally independent of others. They require raw materials as inputs and consumers for their products. Therefore there will be links between different syndicates. These links are twofold: firstly, free agreements between individual syndicates; secondly, confederations of syndicates (within branches of industry and regionally).
Combined with this desire for free co-operation is a desire to end centralised systems. The opposition to centralisation is often framed in a distinctly false manner. This can be seen when Alex Nove, a leading market socialist, argued that “there are horizontal links (market), there are vertical links (hierarchy). What other dimension is there?” [The Economics of Feasible Socialism, p. 226] In other words, to oppose central planning means to embrace the market. This is not true: horizontal links need not be market based any more than vertical links need be hierarchical. An anarchist society must be based essentially on horizontal links between individuals and associations, freely co-operating together as they (not a central body) sees fit. This co-operation will be source of many links in an anarchist economy. When a group of individuals or associations meet together and discuss common interests and make common decisions they will be bound by their own decisions. This is radically different from a central body giving out orders because those affected will determine the content of these decisions. In other words, instead of decisions being handed down from the top, they will be created from the bottom up.
Let us consider free agreement. Anarchists recognise the importance of letting people organise their own lives. This means that they reject central planning and instead urge direct links between workers’ associations. In the words of Kropotkin, “[f]ree workers would require a free organisation, and this cannot have any other basis than free agreement and free co-operation, without sacrificing the autonomy of the individual.” Those directly involved in production (and in consumption) know their needs far better than any bureaucrat. Thus voluntary agreement is the basis of a free economy, such agreements being “entered by free consent, as a free choice between different courses equally open to each of the agreeing parties.” [Anarchism, p. 52 and p. 69] Without the concentration of wealth and power associated with capitalism, free agreement will become real and no longer a mask for hierarchy.
The anarchist economy “starts from below, not from above. Like an organism, this free society grows into being from the simple unit up to the complex structure. The need for . . . the individual struggle for life” is “sufficient to set the whole complex social machinery in motion. Society is the result of the individual struggle for existence; it is not, as many suppose, opposed to it.” So anarchists think that “[i]n the same way that each free individual has associated with his brothers [and sisters!] to produce . . . all that was necessary for life, driven by no other force than his [or her] desire for the full enjoyment of life, so each institution is free and self-contained, and co-operates and enters into agreements with others because by so doing it extends its own possibilities.” This suggests a decentralised economy — even more decentralised than capitalism (which is decentralised only in capitalist mythology, as shown by big business and transnational corporations, for example) — one “growing ever more closely bound together and interwoven by free and mutual agreements.” [George Barrett, The Anarchist Revolution, p. 18]
An anarchist economy would be based on spontaneous order as workers practised mutual aid and free association. For communist anarchists, this would take the form of “free exchange without the medium of money and without profit, on the basis of requirement and the supply at hand.” [Alexander Berkman, What is Anarchism?, p. 217] “Anarchists”, summarised Rocker, “desire a federation of free communities which shall be bound to one another by their common economic and social interest and shall arrange their affairs by mutual agreement and free contract.” [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 1] An example of one such agreement would be orders for products and services:
“This factory of ours is, then, to the fullest extent consistent with the character of its service, a self-governing unit, managing its own productive operations, and free to experiment to the heart’s content in new methods, to develop new styles and products. . . This autonomy of the factory is the safeguard. . . against the dead level of mediocrity, the more than adequate substitute for the variety which the competitive motive was once supposed to stimulate, the guarantee of liveliness, and of individual work and workmanship.” [G.D.H. Cole, Guild Socialism Restated, p. 59]
This means that free agreement will ensure that customers would be able to choose their own suppliers, meaning that production units would know whether they were producing what their customers wanted, when they wanted it (i.e., whether they were meeting individual and social needs). If they were not, customers would go elsewhere, to other production units within the same branch of production. We should stress that in addition to this negative check (i.e. “exit” by consumers) it is likely, via consumer groups and co-operatives as well as communes, that workplaces will be subject to positive checks on what they produced. Consumer groups, by formulating and communicating needs to producer groups, will have a key role in ensuring the quality of production and goods and that it satisfies their needs (see section I.4.7  for more details of this).
These direct horizontal links between syndicates are essential to ensure that goods are produced which meet the needs of those who requested them. Without specific syndicates requesting specific goods at specific times to meet specific requirements, an economy will not meet people’s needs. A central plan, for example, which states that 1 million tonnes of steel or 25 million shirts need to be produced in a year says nothing about what specifically needs to be produced and when, which depends on how it will be used and the needs of those using it. As Malatesta argued, “it would be an absurd waste of energy to produce blindly for all possible needs, rather than calculating the actual needs and organising to satisfy them with as little effort as possible . . . the solution lies in accord between people and in the agreements . . . that will come about” between them. [At the Café, pp. 62-3] Hence the pressing need for the classic anarchist ideas on free association, free agreement and mutual aid! These direct links between producer and consumer can communicate the information required to produce the right thing at the right time! As Kropotkin argued (based on his firsthand experience of state capitalism in Russia under Lenin):
“production and exchange represent an undertaking so complicated that the plans of the state socialists . . . would prove to be absolutely ineffective as soon as they were applied to life. No government would be able to organise production if the workers themselves through their unions did not do it in each branch of industry; for in all production there arise daily thousands of difficulties which no government can solve or foresee. It is certainly impossible to foresee everything. Only the efforts of thousands of intelligences working on the problems can co-operate in the development of a new social system and find the best solutions for the thousands of local needs.” [Anarchism, pp. 76-77]
This brings us to the second form of relationships between syndicates, namely confederations of syndicates in the same industry or geographical area. It should be noted that inter-workplace federations are not limited to collectivist, syndicalist and communist anarchists. The idea of federations of syndicates goes back to Proudhon’s agro-industrial federation, first raised during the 1848 revolution and named as such in his 1863 book, The Federative Principle. This is the structural support organisation for his system of self-managed co-operatives. These confederations of syndicates, are necessary to aid communication between workplaces. No syndicate exists in isolation, and so there is a real need for a means by which syndicates can meet together to discuss common interests and act on them. Thus confederations are complementary to free agreement and also reflect anarchist ideas of free association and decentralised organisation as well as concern for practical needs:
“Anarchists are strenuously opposed to the authoritarian, centralist spirit . . . So they picture a future social life in the basis of federalism, from the individual to the municipality, to the commune, to the region, to the nation, to the international, on the basis of solidarity and free agreement. And it is natural that this ideal should be reflected also in the organisation of production, giving preference as far as possible, to a decentralised sort of organisation; but this does not take the form of an absolute rule to be applied in every instance. A libertarian order would be in itself . . . rule out the possibility of imposing such a unilateral solution.” [Luigi Fabbri, “Anarchy and ‘Scientific Communism”, pp. 13-49, The Poverty of Statism, Albert Meltzer (ed.), p. 23]
A confederation of syndicates (called a “guild” by some libertarian socialists, or “industrial union” by others) works on two levels: within an industry and across industries. The basic operating principle of these confederations is the same as that of the syndicate itself — voluntary co-operation between equals in order to meet common needs. In other words, each syndicate in the confederation is linked by horizontal agreements with the others, and none owe any obligations to a separate entity above the group (see section A.2.11  for more on the nature of anarchist confederation). As Herbert Read summarised:
“The general principle is clear: each industry forms itself into a federation of self-governing collectives; the control of each industry is wholly in the hands of the workers in that industry, and these collectives administer the whole economic life of the country.” [Anarchy and Order, p. 49]
Kropotkin’s comments on federalism between communes indicate this (a syndicate can be considered as a producers’ commune). “The Commune of tomorrow,” he argued “will know that it cannot admit any higher authority; above it there can only be the interests of the Federation, freely accepted by itself as well as other communes.” So federalism need not conflict with autonomy, as each member would have extensive freedom of action within its boundaries and so each “Commune will be absolutely free to adopt all the institutions it wishes and to make all the reforms and revolutions it finds necessary.” [Words of a Rebel, p. 83] Moreover, these federations would be diverse and functional. Economic federation would a produce a complex inter-networking between associations and federations:
“Our needs are in fact so various, and they emerge with such rapidity, that soon a single federation will not be sufficient to satisfy them all. The Commune will then feel the need to contract other alliances, to enter into other federations. Belonging to one group for the acquisition of food supplies, it will have to join a second group to obtain other goods, such as metals, and then a third and a fourth group for textiles and works of art.” [Op. Cit., p. 87]
Therefore, a confederation of syndicates would be adaptive to its members needs. As Tom Brown argued, the “syndicalist mode of organisation is extremely elastic, therein is its chief strength, and the regional confederations can be formed, modified, added to or reformed according to local conditions and changing circumstances.” [Syndicalism, p. 58]
As would be imagined, these confederations are voluntary associations and “[j]ust as factory autonomy is vital in order to keep the Guild system alive and vigorous, the existence of varying democratic types of factories in independence of the National Guilds may also be a means of valuable experiment and fruitful initiative of individual minds. In insistently refusing to carry their theory to its last ‘logical’ conclusion, the Guildsmen [and anarchists] are true to their love of freedom and varied social enterprise.” [G.D.H. Cole, Op. Cit., p. 65] This, it must be stressed does not mean centralised control from the top:
“But when we say that ownership of the tools of production, including the factory itself, should revert to the corporation [i.e. confederation] we do not mean that the workers in the individual workshops will be ruled by any kind of industrial government having power to do what it pleases with the tools of production. No, the workers in the various factories have not the slightest intention of handing over their hard-won control . . . to a superior power . . . What they will do is . . . to guarantee reciprocal use of their tools of production and accord their fellow workers in other factories the right to share their facilities, receiving in exchange the same right to share the facilities of the fellow workers with whom they have contracted the pact of solidarity.” [James Guillaume, “On Building the New Social Order”, pp. 356-79, Bakunin on Anarchism, pp. 363-364]
So collectivist and communist anarchism, like mutualism, is rooted in self-management in the workplace. This implies the ability of workers to pick the kinds of productive tasks they want to do. It would not be the case of workplaces simply being allocated tasks by some central body and expected to fulfil them (a task which, ignoring the real issues of bureaucracy and freedom, would be difficult to implement in any large and complex economy). Rather, workplaces would have the power to select tasks submitted to them by other associations (economic and communal) and control how the work required to achieve them was done. In this type of economic system, workers’ assemblies and councils would be the focal point, formulating policies for their individual workplaces and deliberating on industry-wide or economy-wide issues through general meetings of the whole workforce in which everyone would participate in decision making. Voting in the councils would be direct, whereas in larger confederal bodies, voting would be carried out by temporary, unpaid, mandated, and instantly recallable delegates, who would resume their status as ordinary workers as soon as their mandate had been carried out.
Mandated here means that the delegates from workers’ assemblies and councils to meetings of higher confederal bodies would be instructed, at every level of confederation, by the workers who elected them on how to deal with any issue. They would be delegates, not representatives, and so would attend any confederal meeting with specific instructions on how to vote on a particular issue. Recallable means that if they do not vote according to that mandate they will be replaced and the results of the vote nullified. The delegates, in other words, would be given imperative mandates (binding instructions) that committed them to a framework of policies within which they would have to act, and they could be recalled and their decisions revoked at any time for failing to carry out the mandates they were given (this support for mandated delegates has existed in anarchist theory since at least 1848, when Proudhon argued that it was “a consequence of universal suffrage” to ensure that “the people . . . do not . . . abjure their sovereignty.” [Property is Theft!, p. 379]). Because of this right of mandating and recalling their delegates, the workers’ assemblies at the base would be the source of, and final “authority” (so to speak) over, policy for all higher levels of confederal co-ordination of the economy. Delegates will be ordinary workers rather than paid full-time representatives or union leaders, and they will return to their usual jobs as soon as the mandate for which they have been elected has been carried out. In this way, decision-making power remains with the workers’ councils and does not become concentrated at the top of a bureaucratic hierarchy in an elite class of professional administrators or union leaders. What these confederations could do is discussed in the next section .
In summary, a free society “is freely organised, from the bottom to top, staring from individuals that unite in associations which slowly grow bit by bit into ever more complex federations of associations”. [Malatesta, At the Cafe, p. 65]
Voluntary confederation among syndicates is considered necessary by social anarchists for numerous reasons but mostly in order to decide on the policies governing relations between syndicates and to co-ordinate their activities. This could vary from agreeing technical standards, to producing guidelines and policies on specific issues, to agreeing major investment decisions or prioritising certain large-scale economic projects or areas of research. In addition, they would be the means by which disputes could be solved and any tendencies back towards capitalism or some other class society identified and acted upon.
This can be seen from Proudhon, who was the first to suggest the need for such federations. “All my economic ideas, elaborated for twenty-five years,” he stated, “can be summarised in these three words: Agricultural-Industrial Federation“ This was required because “[h]owever irreproachable the federal constitution may be in its logic . . . it can only last as long as it does not encounter constant causes of dissolution in public economy. In other words, political right must have the buttress of economic right.” A free society could not survive it was “divided in two classes, one of owners-capitalists-entrepreneurs, the other of wage-earning proletarians; one rich, the other poor.” Thus “from an economic standpoint, one can federate for a mutual protection in commerce and industry . . . The aim of these particular federations is to shield the citizens . . . from bankocratic and capitalist exploitation, as much from the inside as from the outside; they form by their ensemble . . . an agricultural-industrial federation“ [Property is Theft!, p. 714, p. 709 and p. 711]
While capitalism results in “interest on capital” and “economic serfdom or wage-labour, in a word, the inequality of conditions and fortunes”, the “agricultural-industrial federation . . . tends to approximate equality more and more . . . by mutual credit and insurance . . . guaranteeing work and education, by a combination of work to allow each worker to evolve from a mere labourer to a skilled worker or even an artist, and from a wage-earner to their own master.” The “industrial federation” will apply “on the highest scale” the “principles of mutuality” and “economic solidarity”. As “industries are sisters”, they “are parts of the same body” and “one cannot suffer without the others suffering because of it. ” They should therefore “federate, not to absorb one another and merge, but to mutually guarantee the conditions of prosperity that are common to them all and on which none can claim a monopoly.” [Op. Cit., pp. 712-3]
Later anarchists took up, built upon and clarified these ideas of economic federation. There are two basic kinds of confederation: an industrial one (i.e., a federation of all workplaces of a certain type) and a regional one (i.e. a federation of all syndicates within a given economic area). Thus there would be a federation for each industry and a federation of all syndicates in a geographical area. Both would operate at different levels, meaning there would be confederations for both industrial and inter-industrial associations at the local and regional levels and beyond. The basic aim of this inter-industry and cross-industry networking is to ensure that the relevant information is spread across the various parts of the economy so that each can effectively co-ordinate its plans with the others in a way which minimises ecological and social harm. Thus there would be a railway workers confederation to manage the rail network but the local, regional and national depots and stations would send a delegate to meet regularly with the other syndicates in the same geographical area to discuss general economic issues.
However, it is essential to remember that each syndicate within the confederation is autonomous. The confederations seek to co-ordinate activities of joint interest (in particular investment decisions for new plant and the rationalisation of existing plant in light of reduced demand). They do not determine what work a syndicate does or how they do it:
“With the factory thus largely conducting its own concerns, the duties of the larger Guild organisations [i.e. confederations] would be mainly those of co-ordination, or regulation, and of representing the Guild in its external relations. They would, where it was necessary, co-ordinate the production of various factories, so as to make supply coincide with demand. . . they would organise research . . . This large Guild organisation. . . must be based directly on the various factories included in the Guild.” [Cole, Guild Socialism Restated, pp. 59-60]
So it is important to note that the lowest units of confederation — the workers’ assemblies — will control the higher levels, through their power to elect mandated and recallable delegates to meetings of higher confederal units. It would be fair to make the assumption that the “higher” up the federation a decision is made, the more general it will be. Due to the complexity of life it would be difficult for federations which cover wide areas to plan large-scale projects in any detail and so would be, in practice, more forums for agreeing guidelines and priorities than planning actual specific projects or economies. As Russian anarcho-syndicalist G.P. Maximov put it, the aim “was to co-ordinate all activity, all local interest, to create a centre but not a centre of decrees and ordinances but a centre of regulation, of guidance — and only through such a centre to organise the industrial life of the country.” [quoted by M. Brinton, For Workers’ Power, p. 330]
So this is a decentralised system, as the workers’ assemblies and councils at the base having the final say on all policy decisions, being able to revoke policies made by those with delegated decision-making power and to recall those who made them:
“When it comes to the material and technical method of production, anarchists have no preconceived solutions or absolute prescriptions, and bow to what experience and conditions in a free society recommend and prescribe. What matters is that, whatever the type of production adopted, it should be the free choice of the producers themselves, and cannot possibly be imposed, any more than any form is possible of exploitations of another’s labour. . . Anarchists do not a priori exclude any practical solution and likewise concede that there may be a number of different solutions at different times.” [Luigi Fabbri, “Anarchy and ‘Scientific’ Communism”, pp. 13-49, The Poverty of Statism, Albert Meltzer (ed.), p. 22]
Confederations would exist for specific reasons. Mutualists, as can be seen from Proudhon, are aware of the dangers associated with even a self-managed, socialistic market and create support structures to defend workers’ self-management. Moreover, it is likely that industrial syndicates would be linked to mutual banks (a credit syndicate). Such syndicates would exist to provide interest-free credit for self-management, new syndicate expansion and so on. And if the experience of capitalism is anything to go by, mutual banks will also reduce the business cycle as “[c]ountries like Japan and Germany that are usually classified as bank-centred — because banks provide more outside finance than markets, and because more firms have long-term relationships with their banks — show greater growth in and stability of investment over time than the market-centred ones, like the US and Britain . . . Further, studies comparing German and Japanese firms with tight bank ties to those without them also show that firms with bank ties exhibit greater stability in investment over the business cycle.” [Doug Henwood, Wall Street, pp. 174-5]
One argument against co-operatives is that they do not allow the diversification of risk (all the worker’s eggs are in one basket). Ignoring the obvious point that most workers today do not have shares and are dependent on their job to survive, this objection can be addressed by means of “the horizontal association or grouping of enterprises to pool their business risk. The Mondragon co-operatives are associated together in a number of regional groups that pool their profits in varying degrees. Instead of a worker diversifying his or her capital in six companies, six companies partially pool their profits in a group or federation and accomplish the same risk-reduction purpose without transferable equity capital.” Thus “risk-pooling in federations of co-operatives” ensure that “transferable equity capital is not necessary to obtain risk diversification in the flow of annual worker income.” [David Ellerman, The Democratic Worker-Owned Firm, p. 104] Moreover, as the example of many isolated co-operatives under capitalism have shown, support networks are essential for co-operatives to survive. It is no co-incidence that the Mondragon co-operative complex in the Basque region of Spain has a credit union and mutual support networks between its co-operatives and is by far the most successful co-operative system in the world. The “agro-industrial federation” exists precisely for these reasons.
Under collectivist and communist anarchism, the federations would have addition tasks. There are two key roles. Firstly, the sharing and co-ordination of information produced by the syndicates and, secondly, determining the response to the changes in production and consumption indicated by this information.
Confederations (negotiated-co-ordination bodies) would be responsible for clearly defined branches of production, and in general, production units would operate in only one branch of production. These confederations would have direct links to other confederations and the relevant communal confederations, which supply the syndicates with guidelines for decision making (see section I.4.4 ) and ensure that common problems can be highlighted and discussed. These confederations exist to ensure that information is spread between workplaces and to ensure that the industry responds to changes in social demand. In other words, these confederations exist to co-ordinate major new investment decisions (i.e. if demand exceeds supply) and to determine how to respond if there is excess capacity (i.e. if supply exceeds demand).
It should be pointed out that these confederated investment decisions will exist along with the investments associated with the creation of new syndicates, plus internal syndicate investment decisions. We are not suggesting that every investment decision is to be made by the confederations. (This would be particularly impossible for new industries, for which a confederation would not exist!) Therefore, in addition to co-ordinated production units, an anarchist society would see numerous small-scale, local activities which would ensure creativity, diversity, and flexibility. Only after these activities had spread across society would confederal co-ordination become necessary. So while production will be based on autonomous networking, the investment response to consumer actions would, to some degree, be co-ordinated by a confederation of syndicates in that branch of production. By such means, the confederation can ensure that resources are not wasted by individual syndicates over-producing goods or over-investing in response to changes in production. By communicating across workplaces, people can overcome the barriers to co-ordinating their plans which one finds in market systems (see section C.7.2 ) and so avoid the economic and social disruptions associated with them.
Thus, major investment decisions would be made at congresses and plenums of the industry’s syndicates, by a process of horizontal, negotiated co-ordination. Major investment decisions are co-ordinated at an appropriate level, with each unit in the confederation being autonomous, deciding what to do with its own productive capacity in order to meet social demand. Thus we have self-governing production units co-ordinated by confederations (horizontal negotiation), which ensures local initiative (a vital source of flexibility, creativity, and diversity) and a rational response to changes in social demand. As links between syndicates are non-hierarchical, each syndicate remains self-governing. This ensures decentralisation of power and direct control, initiative, and experimentation by those involved in doing the work.
It should be noted that during the Spanish Revolution the self-managed workplaces successfully federated in many different ways. Gaston Leval noted that these forms of confederation did not harm the libertarian nature of self-management:
“Everything was controlled by the syndicates. But it must not therefore be assumed that everything was decided by a few higher bureaucratic committees without consulting the rank and file members of the union. Here libertarian democracy was practised. As in the C.N.T. there was a reciprocal double structure; from the grass roots at the base . . . upwards, and in the other direction a reciprocal influence from the federation of these same local units at all levels downwards, from the source back to the source.” [The Anarchist Collectives, p. 105]
The exact nature of any confederal responsibilities will vary, although we “prefer decentralised management; but ultimately, in practical and technical problems, we defer to free experience.” [Luigi Fabbri, Op. Cit., p. 24] The specific form of organisation will obviously vary as required from industry to industry, area to area, but the underlying ideas of self-management and free association will be the same. Moreover, the “essential thing . . . is that its [the confederation or guild] function should be kept down to the minimum possible for each industry.” [Cole, Op. Cit., p. 61]
Another important role for inter-syndicate federations is to even-out inequalities. After all, each area will not be identical in terms of natural resources, quality of land, situation, accessibility, and so on. Simply put, social anarchists “believe that because of natural differences in fertility, health and location of the soil it would be impossible to ensure that every individual enjoyed equal working conditions.” Under such circumstances, it would be “impossible to achieve a state of equality from the beginning” and so “justice and equity are, for natural reasons, impossible to achieve . . . and that freedom would thus also be unachievable.” [Malatesta, The Anarchist Revolution, p. 16 and p. 21]
This was recognised by Proudhon, who saw the need for economic federation due to differences in raw materials, quality of land and so on, and as such argued that a portion of income from agricultural produce be paid into a central fund which would be used to make equalisation payments to compensate farmers with less favourably situated or less fertile land. As he put it, economic rent “in agriculture has no other cause than the inequality in the quality of land . . . if anyone has a claim on account of this inequality . . . [it is] the other land workers who hold inferior land. That is why in our scheme for liquidation [of capitalism] we stipulated that every variety of cultivation should pay a proportional contribution, destined to accomplish a balancing of returns among farm workers and an assurance of products.” In addition, “all the communes of the Republic shall come to an understanding for equalising among them the quality of tracts of land, as well as accidents of culture.” [Property is Theft!, p. 582 and p. 578]
By federating together, workers can ensure that “the earth will . . . be an economic domain available to everyone, the riches of which will be enjoyed by all human beings.” [Malatesta, Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 93] Local deficiencies of raw materials, in the quality of land, and, therefore, supplies would be compensated from outside, by the socialisation of production and consumption. This would allow all of humanity to share and benefit from economic activity, so ensuring that well-being for all is possible.
Federation would eliminate the possibility of rich and poor collectives and syndicates co-existing side by side. As Kropotkin argued, “[c]ommon possession of the necessities for production implies the common enjoyment of the fruits of common production . . . when everybody, contributing for the common well-being to the full extent of his [or her] capacities, shall enjoy also from the common stock of society to the fullest possible extent of his [or her] needs.” [Anarchism, p. 59] Hence we find the CNT arguing in its 1936 resolution on libertarian communism that “[a]s far as the interchange of produce between communes is concerned, the communal councils are to liase with the regional federations of communes and with the confederal council of production and distribution, applying for whatever they may need and [giving] any available surplus stocks.” [quoted by Jose Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, vol. 1, p. 107] This clearly followed Kropotkin’s comments that the “socialising of production, consumption, and exchange” would be based on workplaces “belong[ing] to federated Communes.” [The Conquest of Bread, p. 136]
The legacy of capitalism, with its rich and poor areas, its rich and poor workplaces, will be a problem any revolution will face. The inequalities produced by centuries of class society will take time to change. This is one of the tasks of the confederation, to ensure the socialisation of both production and consumption so that people are not penalised for the accidents of history and that each commune can develop itself to an adequate level. In the words of the CNT during the Spanish Revolution:
“Many arguments are used against the idea of socialisation; one of these — the most delightful — says that by socialising an industry we simply take it over and run it with the consequence that we have flourishing industries where the workers are privileged, and unfortunate industries where the workers get less benefits but have to work harder than workers elsewhere . . . There are differences between the workers in prosperous industries and those which barely survive. . . Such anomalies, which we don’t deny exist, are attributed to the attempts at socialisation. We firmly assert that the opposite is true; such anomalies are the logical result of the absence of socialisation.
“The socialisation which we propose will resolve these problems which are used to attack it. Were Catalan industry socialised, everything would be organically linked — industry, agriculture, and the trade union organisations, in accordance with the council for the economy. They would become normalised, the working day would become more equal or what comes to the same thing, the differences between workers of different activities would end . . .
“Socialisation is — and let its detractors hear it — the genuine authentic organisation of the economy. Undoubtedly the economy has to be organised; but not according to the old methods, which are precisely those which we are destroying, but in accordance with new norms which will make our people become an example to the world proletariat.” [Solidaridad Obrera, 30 April 1937, p. l2]
Workers’ self-management does not automatically mean that all forms of economic domination and exploitation would be eliminated. After all, in a market economy firms can accrue super-profits simply because of their size or control over a specific technology or resource. Hence Proudhon’s suggestion that “advocates of mutualism” would “regulate the market” to ensure “an honest breakdown of cost prices”, fix “after amicable discussion of a maximum and minimum profit margin” and “the organising of regulating societies.” [Op. Cit., pp. 33-4] It seems likely that the agro-industrial federation would be the body which ensures that. Similarly, the federation would be the means by which to air, and deal with, suggestions that syndicates are monopolising their resources, i.e., treating them as private property rather than socialised possessions. Thus the federation would unite workers “to guarantee the mutual use of the tools of production” which are, “by a reciprocal contract”, the “collective property of the whole.” [James Guillaume, “On Building the New Social Order”, pp. 356-79, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 376]
The inter-industry confederations help ensure that when the members of a syndicate change work to another syndicate in another (or the same) branch of industry, they have the same rights as the members of their new syndicate. In other words, by being part of the confederation, a worker ensures that s/he has the same rights and an equal say in whatever workplace is joined. This is essential to ensure that a co-operative society remains co-operative, as the system is based on the principle of “one person, one vote” by all those involved the work process. If specific syndicates are restricting access and so producing wage-labour, monopolising resources and so charging monopoly prices, the federation would be a forum to publicly shame such syndicates and organise boycotts of them. Such anti-social activity is unlikely to be tolerated by a free people seeking to protect that freedom.
However, it could again be argued that these confederations are still centralised and that workers would still be following orders coming from above. This is incorrect, for any decisions concerning an industry or plant are under the direct control of those involved. For example, the steel industry confederation may decide to rationalise itself at one of its congresses. Murray Bookchin sketches the response to this situation as follows:
“let us suppose that a board of highly qualified technicians is established [by this congress] to propose changes in the steel industry. This board . . . advances proposals to rationalise the industry by closing down some plants and expanding the operation of others . . . Is this a ‘centralised’ body or not? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, only in the sense that the board is dealing with problems that concern the country as a whole; no, because it can make no decision that must be executed for the country as a whole. The board’s plan must be examined by all the workers in the plants [that are affected] . . . The board itself has no power to enforce ‘decisions’; it merely makes recommendations. Additionally, its personnel are controlled by the plant in which they work and the locality in which they live . . . they would have no decision-making powers. The adoption, modification or rejection of their plans would rest entirely with . . . [those] involved.” [Post Scarcity Anarchism, p. 180]
Therefore, confederations would not be in positions of power over the individual syndicates. No attempt is made to determine which plants produce which steel for which customers in which manner. Thus, the confederations of syndicates ensure a decentralised, spontaneous economic order without the negative side-effects of capitalism (namely power concentrations within firms and in the market, periodic crises, etc.).
As one can imagine, an essential feature of these confederations will be the collection and processing of information in order to determine how an industry is developing. This does not imply bureaucracy or centralised control at the top. Taking the issue of centralisation first, the confederation is run by delegate assemblies, meaning that any officers elected at a congress only implement the decisions made by the delegates of the relevant syndicates. It is in the congresses and plenums of the confederation that new investment decisions, for example, are made. The key point to remember is that the confederation exists purely to co-ordinate joint activity and share information, it does not take an interest in how a workplace is run or what orders from consumers it fills. (Of course, if a given workplace introduces policies which other syndicates disapprove of, it can be expelled). As the delegates to these congresses and plenums are mandated and their decisions subject to rejection and modification by each productive unit, the confederation is not centralised.
As far as bureaucracy goes, the collecting and processing of information does necessitate an administrative staff to do the work. However, this problem affects capitalist firms as well; and since syndicates are based on bottom-up decision making, its clear that, unlike a centralised capitalist corporation, administration would be smaller. In fact, it is likely that a fixed administration staff for the confederation would not exist in the first place! At the regular congresses, a particular syndicate may be selected to do the confederation’s information processing, with this job being rotated regularly around different syndicates. In this way, a specific administrative body and equipment can be avoided and the task of collating information placed directly in the hands of ordinary workers. Further, it prevents the development of a bureaucratic elite by ensuring that all participants are versed in information-processing procedures.
Lastly, what information would be collected? That depends on the context. Individual syndicates would record inputs and outputs, producing summary sheets of information. For example, total energy input, in kilowatts and by type, raw material inputs, labour hours spent, orders received, orders accepted, output, and so forth. This information can be processed into energy use and labour time per product (for example), in order to give an idea of how efficient production is and how it is changing over time. For confederations, the output of individual syndicates can be aggregated and local and other averages can be calculated. In addition, changes in demand can be identified by this aggregation process and used to identify when investment will be needed or plants closed down. In this way the chronic slumps and booms of capitalism can be avoided without creating a system which is even more centralised than capitalism.
This is a common question, particularly from defenders of capitalism. They argue that syndicates will not co-operate together unless forced to do so, and will compete against each other for raw materials, skilled workers, and so on. The result of this process, it is claimed, will be rich and poor syndicates, inequality within society and within the workplace, and (possibly) a class of unemployed workers from unsuccessful syndicates who are hired by successful ones. In other words, they argue that libertarian socialism will need to become authoritarian to prevent competition, and that if it does not do so it will become capitalist very quickly.
For individualist anarchists and mutualists, competition is not viewed as a problem. They think that competition, based around co-operatives and mutual banks, would minimise economic inequality, as the new economic structure based around free credit and co-operation would eliminate non-labour (i.e. unearned) income such as profit, interest and rent and give workers enough bargaining power to eliminate exploitation. For these anarchists it is a case of capitalism perverting competition and so are not against competition itself. Other anarchists think that whatever gains might accrue from competition (assuming there are, in fact, any) would be more than offset by its negative effects, which are outlined in section I.1.3  . It is to these anarchists that the question is usually asked.
Before continuing, we would like to point out that individuals trying to improve their lot in life is not against anarchist principles. How could it be? Being selfish “is not a crime,” John Most and Emma Goldman noted, “it only becomes a crime when conditions are such as to give an individual the opportunity to satisfy his selfishness to the detriment of others. In an anarchistic society everyone will seek to satisfy his ego” but in order to do so he “will extend his aid to those who will aid him, and then selfishness will no more be a curse but a blessing.” [“Talking about Anarchy”, Black Flag, no. 228, p. 28] Thus anarchists see co-operation and mutual aid as an expression of “self-interest”, in that working with people as equals is in our joint benefit. In the words of John O’Neill:
“for it is the institutions themselves that define what counts as one’s interests. In particular, the market encourages egoism, not primarily because it encourages an individual to be ‘self-interested’ — it would be unrealistic not to expect individuals to act for the greater part in a ‘self-interested’ manner — but rather because it defines an individual’s interests in a particularly narrow fashion, most notably in terms of possession of certain material goods. In consequence, where market mechanism enter a particular sphere of life, the pursuit of goods outside this narrow range of market goods is institutionally defined as an act of altruism.” [The Market, p. 158]
As such, anarchists would suggest that we should not confuse competition with self-interest and that a co-operative society would tend to promote institutions and customs which would ensure that people recognised that co-operation between equals maximises individual freedom and self-interest far more than individualistic pursuit to material wealth at the expense of all other goals. Ultimately, what use would it be to gain the world and loose what makes life worth living?
Of course, such a society would not be based on exactly equal shares of everything. Rather, it would mean equal opportunity and free, or equal, access to resources (for example, that only ill people use medical resources is unproblematic for egalitarians!). So a society with unequal distributions of resources is not automatically a non-anarchist one. What is against anarchist principles is centralised power, oppression, and exploitation, all of which flow from large inequalities of income and private property. This is the source of anarchist concern about equality — concern that is not based on some sort of “politics of envy.” Anarchists oppose inequality because it soon leads to the few oppressing the many (a relationship which distorts the individuality and liberty of all involved as well as the health and very lives of the oppressed).
Anarchists desire to create a society in which such relationships are impossible, believing that the most effective way to do this is by empowering all, by creating an egoistic concern for liberty and equality among the oppressed, and by developing social organisations which encourage self-management. As for individuals’ trying to improve their lot, anarchists maintain that co-operation is the best means to do so, not competition. And there is substantial evidence to support this claim (see, for example, Alfie Kohn’s No Contest: The Case Against Competition and Robert Axelrod’s The Evolution of Co-operation present abundant evidence that co-operation is in our long term interests and provides better results than short term competition). This suggests that, as Kropotkin argued, mutual aid, not mutual struggle, will be in an individual’s self-interest and so competition in a free, sane society would be minimised and reduced to sports and other individual pastimes. As Stirner argued, co-operation is just as egoistic as competition (a fact sometimes lost on many due to the obvious ethical superiority of co-operation):
“But should competition some day disappear, because concerted effort will have been acknowledged as more beneficial than isolation, then will not every single individual inside the associations be equally egoistic and out for his own interests?” [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 22]
Now to the “competition” objection, which we’ll begin to answer by noting that it ignores a few key points.
Firstly, the assumption that a libertarian society would “become capitalist” in the absence of a state is obviously false. If competition did occur between collectives and did lead to massive wealth inequalities, then the newly rich would have to create a state to protect their private property against the dispossessed. So inequality, not equality, leads to the creation of states. It is no co-incidence that the anarchic communities that existed for millennia were also egalitarian.
Secondly, as noted in section A.2.5  , anarchists do not consider “equal” to mean “identical.” Therefore, to claim that wage differences mean the end of anarchism makes sense only if one thinks that “equality” means everyone getting exactly equal shares. As anarchists do not hold such an idea, wage differences in an otherwise anarchistically organised syndicate do not indicate a lack of equality. How the syndicate is run is of far more importance, because the most pernicious type of inequality from the anarchist standpoint is inequality of power, i.e. unequal influence on political and economic decision making.
Under capitalism, wealth inequality translates into such an inequality of power, and vice versa, because wealth can buy private property (and state protection of it), which gives owners authority over that property and those hired to produce with it; but under libertarian socialism, minor or even moderate differences in income among otherwise equal workers would not lead to this kind of power inequality, because self-management and socialisation severs the link between wealth and power. Moreover, when labour becomes free in a society of rebels (and, surely, an anarchist society could be nothing but) few would tolerate relatively minor income inequalities becoming a source of power.
Thirdly, anarchists do not pretend that an anarchist society will be perfect. Hence there may be periods, particularly just after capitalism has been replaced by self-management, when differences in skill, etc., leads to some people exploiting their position and getting more wages, better hours and conditions, and so forth. This problem existed in the industrial collectives in the Spanish Revolution. As Kropotkin pointed out, “[b]ut, when all is said and done, some inequalities, some inevitable injustice, undoubtedly will remain. There are individuals in our societies whom no great crisis can lift out of the deep mire of egoism in which they are sunk. The question, however, is not whether there will be injustices or no, but rather how to limit the number of them.” [The Conquest of Bread, p. 94]
In other words, these problems will exist, but there are a number of things that anarchists can do to minimise their impact. There will be a “gestation period” before the birth of an anarchist society, in which social struggle, new forms of education and child-rearing, and other methods of consciousness-raising increase the number of anarchists and decrease the number of authoritarians.
The most important element in this gestation period is social struggle. Such self-activity will have a major impact on those involved in it (see section J.2 ). By direct action and solidarity, those involved develop bounds of friendship and support with others, develop new forms of ethics and new ideas and ideal. This radicalisation process will help to ensure that any differences in education and skill do not develop into differences in power in an anarchist society by making people less likely to exploit their advantages nor, more importantly, for others to tolerate them doing so!
In addition, education within the anarchist movement should aim, among other things, to give its members familiarity with technological skills so that they are not dependent on “experts” and can thus increase the pool of skilled workers who will be happy working in conditions of liberty and equality. This will ensure that differentials between workers can be minimised. In the long run, however, popularisation of non-authoritarian methods of child-rearing and education (see section J.6 ) are particularly important because, as we suggested in section B.1.5  , secondary drives such as greed and the desire the exercise power over others are products of authoritarian upbringing based on punishments and fear. Only if the prevalence of such drives is reduced among the general population can we be sure that an anarchist revolution will not degenerate into some new form of domination and exploitation.
However, there are other reasons why economic inequality — say, in differences of income levels or working conditions, which may arise from competition for “better” workers — would be far less severe under any form of anarchist society than it is under capitalism.
Firstly, the syndicates would be democratically managed. This would result in much smaller wage differentials, because there is no board of wealthy directors setting wage levels for their own gain. So without hierarchies in the workplace no one would be in a position to monopolise the work of others and grow rich as a result:
“Poverty is the symptom: slavery the disease. The extremes of riches and destitution follow inevitably upon the extremes of license and bondage. The many are not enslaved because they are poor, they are poor because they are enslaved. Yet Socialists have all too often fixed their eyes upon the material misery of the poor without realising that it rests upon the spiritual degradation of the slave.” [G.D.H. Cole, Self-Government in Industry, p. 41]
Empirical evidence supports anarchist claims as co-operatives have a far more egalitarian wage structure than capitalist firms. This can be seen from the experience of the Mondragon co-operatives, where the wage difference between the highest paid and lowest paid worker was 4 to 1. This was only increased when they had to compete with large capitalist companies, and even then the new ratio of 9 to 1 is far smaller than those in capitalist companies (in America the ratio is 200 to 1 and beyond!). Thus, even under capitalism, there “is evidence that the methods of distribution chosen by worker-controlled or self-managed firms are more egalitarian than distribution according to market precepts.” [Christopher Eaton Gunn, Workers’ Self-Management in the United States, p. 45] Given that market precepts fail to take into account power differences, this is unsurprising. Thus we can predict that a fully self-managed economy would be just as, if not, more egalitarian as differences in power would be eliminated, as would unemployment (James K. Galbraith, in his book Created Unequal, has presented extensive evidence that unemployment increases inequality, as would be expected).
It is a common myth that managers, executives and so on are paid so highly because of their unique abilities. Actually, they are so highly paid because they are bureaucrats in command of large hierarchical institutions. It is the hierarchical nature of the capitalist firm that ensures inequality, not exceptional skills. Even enthusiastic supporters of capitalism provide evidence to support this claim. In the 1940s Peter Drucker, a supporter of capitalism, brushed away the claim that corporate organisation brings managers with exceptional ability to the top when he noted that “[n]o institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organised in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership of average human beings.” For Drucker, “the things that really count are not the individual members but the relations of command and responsibility among them.” [Concept of the Corporation, p. 35 and p. 34] Little has changed, beyond the power of PR to personalise the bureaucratic structures of corporations.
Secondly, having no means of unearned income (such as rent, interest and intellectual property rights), anarchism will reduce income differentials substantially.
Thirdly, management positions would be rotated, ensuring that everyone gets experience of the work, thus reducing the artificial scarcity created by the division of labour. Also, education would be extensive, ensuring that engineers, doctors, and other skilled workers would do the work because they enjoyed doing it and not for financial reward.
Fourthly, we should like to point out that people work for many reasons, not just for high wages. Feelings of solidarity, empathy, friendship with their fellow workers would also help reduce competition between syndicates.
Of course, the “competition” objection assumes that syndicates and members of syndicates will place financial considerations above all else. This is not the case, and few individuals are the economic robots assumed in capitalist dogma. Indeed, the evidence from co-operatives refutes such claims (ignoring, for the moment, the vast evidence of our own senses and experiences with real people rather than the insane “economic man” of capitalist economic ideology). As noted in section I.3.1  neo-classical economic theory, deducing from its basic assumptions, argues that members of co-operatives will aim to maximise profit per worker and so, perversely, fire their members during good times. Reality contradicts these claims. In other words, the underlying assumption that people are economic robots cannot be maintained — there is extensive evidence pointing to the fact that different forms of social organisation produce different considerations which motivate people accordingly.
So, while recognising that competition could exist, anarchists think there are plenty of reasons not to worry about massive economic inequality being created, which in turn would re-create the state. The apologists for capitalism who put forward this argument forget that the pursuit of self-interest is universal, meaning that everyone would be interested in maximising his or her liberty, and so would be unlikely to allow inequalities to develop which threatened that liberty. It would be in the interests of communes and syndicates to share with others instead of charging high prices for them as they may find themselves boycotted by others, and so denied the advantages of social co-operation. Moreover, they may be subject to such activities themselves and so it would wise for them to remember to “treat others as you would like them to treat you under similar circumstances.” As anarchism will never come about unless people desire it and start to organise their own lives, it is clear that an anarchist society would be inhabited by individuals who followed that ethical principle.
So it is doubtful that people inspired by anarchist ideas would start to charge each other high prices, particularly since the syndicates and community assemblies are likely to vote for a wide basis of surplus distribution, precisely to avoid this problem and to ensure that production will be for use rather than profit. In addition, as other communities and syndicates would likely boycott any syndicate or commune that was acting in non-co-operative ways, it is likely that social pressure would soon result in those willing to exploit others rethinking their position. Co-operation does not imply a willingness to tolerate those who desire to take advantage of you. In other words, neither mutual aid nor anarchist theory implies people are naive indiscriminate altruists but rather people who, while willing to work with others co-operatively, will act to stop others taking advantage of them. Mutual aid, in other words is based on reciprocal relationships. If someone or a syndicate does not co-operate but rather seeks to take advantage of others, then the others are well within their rights to boycott them and otherwise protest against them. A free society is based on all people pursuing their self-interest, not just the few. This suggests that anarchists reject the assumption that those who lose by competition should be altruistic and let competition ruin their lives.
Moreover, given the experience of the neo-liberal period from the 1980s onwards (with rising inequality marked by falling growth, lower wage growth, rising unemployment and increased economic instability) the impact of increased competition and inequality harms the vast majority. It is doubtful that people aware of these tendencies (and that, as we argued in section F.3  , “free exchange” in an unequal society tends to increase, not decrease, inequality) would create such a regime.
Unsurprisingly, examples of anarchism in action show that there are ways of working together to reduce the dangers of isolation and competition. One thing to remember is that anarchy will not be created “overnight” and so potential problems will be worked out over time. Underlying all these kinds of objections is the assumption that co-operation will not be more beneficial to all involved than competition. However, in terms of quality of life, co-operation will soon be seen to be the better system, even by the most highly paid workers. There is far more to life than the size of one’s pay packet, and anarchism exists in order to ensure that life is far more than the weekly grind of boring work and the few hours of hectic consumption in which people attempt to fill the “spiritual hole” created by a way of life which places profits above people.
In this case, they are free to work alone, by their own labour. Anarchists have no desire to force people to join a syndicate. Emma Goldman spoke for all anarchists when she stated that “[w]e believe in every person living his own life in his own way and not in coercing others to follow any one’s dictation.” [A Documentary History of the American Years, vol. 2, p. 324]
Therefore, the decision to join a syndicate will be a free one, with the potential for living outside it guaranteed for non-exploitative and non-oppressive individuals and groups. Malatesta stressed this when he argued that in an anarchist revolution “what has to be destroyed at once . . . is capitalistic property, that is, the fact that a few control the natural wealth and the instruments of production and can thus oblige others to work for them” but one must have a “right and the possibility to live in a different regime, collectivist, mutualist, individualist — as one wishes, always on the condition that there is no oppression or exploitation of others.” [Errico Malatesta: Life and Ideas, p. 102] In other words, different forms of social life will be experimented with, depending on what people desire.
Of course some people ask how anarchists can reconcile individual freedom with expropriation of capital. All we can say is that these critics subscribe to the idea that one should not interfere with the “individual freedom” of those in positions of authority to oppress others, and that this premise turns the concept of individual freedom on its head, making oppression a “right” and the denial of freedom a form of it!
However, it is a valid question to ask if anarchism would result in self-employed people being forced into syndicates as the result of a popular movement. The answer is no. This is because the destruction of title deeds would not harm the independent worker, whose real title is possession and the work done. What anarchists want to eliminate is not possession but capitalist property. Thus such workers “may prefer to work alone in his own small shop” rather than join an association or a federation. [James Guillaume, “On Building the New Social Order”, pp. 356-79, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 362]
This means that independent producers will still exist within an anarchist society, and some workplaces — perhaps whole areas — will not be part of a confederation. This is natural in a free society for different people to have different ideas and ideals. Nor does such independent producers imply a contradiction with libertarian socialism, for “[w]hat we concerned with is the destruction of the titles of proprietors who exploit the labour of others and, above all, of expropriating them in fact in order to put . . . all the means of production at the disposal of those who do the work.” [Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 103] Such freedom to work independently or associate as desired does not imply any support for private property (as discussed in section I.6.2 ). Thus any individual in a libertarian socialist economy “always has the liberty to isolate himself and work alone, without being considered a bad citizen or a suspect.” [Proudhon, quoted by K. Steven Vincent, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism, p. 145]
In summary, in a free society people need not join syndicates nor does a co-operative need to confederate with others. Given we have discussed the issue of freedom of economic arrangements at length in section G.2.1  we will leave this discussion here.
No. The idea that anarchism aims for small, self-sufficient, communes is a Leninist slander. They misrepresent anarchist ideas on this matter, suggesting that anarchists seriously want society based on “small autonomous communities, devoted to small scale production.” In particular, they point to Kropotkin, arguing that he “looked backwards for change” and “witnessed such communities among Siberian peasants and watchmakers in the Swiss mountains.” [Pat Stack, “Anarchy in the UK?”, Socialist Review, no. 246] Another Leninist, Donny Gluckstein, makes a similar assertion about Proudhon wanting a federation of “tiny economic units”. [The Paris Commune, p. 75]
While it may be better to cover this issue in section H.2  , we discuss it here simply because it relates directly to what an anarchist society could look like.
So what do anarchists make of the assertion that we aim for “small autonomous communities, devoted to small scale production”? Simply put, we think it is nonsense (as would be quickly obvious from reading anarchist theory). Indeed, it is hard to know where this particular anarchist “vision” comes from. As Luigi Fabbri noted, in his reply to an identical assertion by the leading Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin, “[i]t would be interesting to learn in what anarchist book, pamphlet or programme such an ‘ideal’ is set out, or even such a hard and fast rule!” [“Anarchy and ‘Scientific’ Communism”, pp. 13-49, The Poverty of Statism, Albert Meltzer (ed.), p. 21]
If we look at, say, Proudhon, we soon see no such argument for “small scale” production: “Large industry and high culture come to us by big monopoly and big property: it is necessary in the future to make them rise from the [workers] association.” In fact, he explicitly rejected the position Stack inflicts on him by arguing that it “would be to retrograde” and “impossible” to wish “the division of labour, with machinery and manufactures, to be abandoned, and each family to return to the system of primitive indivision, – that is, to each one by himself, each one for himself, in the most literal meaning of the words.” [Property is Theft!, p. 11 and p. 194] As historian K. Steven Vincent correctly summarises:
“On this issue, it is necessary to emphasise that, contrary to the general image given in the secondary literature, Proudhon was not hostile to large industry. Clearly, he objected to many aspects of what these large enterprises had introduced into society. For example, Proudhon strenuously opposed the degrading character of . . . work which required an individual to repeat one minor function continuously. But he was not opposed in principle to large-scale production. What he desired was to humanise such production, to socialise it so that the worker would not be the mere appendage to a machine. Such a humanisation of large industries would result, according to Proudhon, from the introduction of strong workers’ associations. These associations would enable the workers to determine jointly by election how the enterprise was to be directed and operated on a day-to-day basis.” [Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism, p. 156]
Moreover, Proudhon did not see an anarchist society as one of isolated communities or workplaces. Like other anarchists, as we discussed in section I.3.4 , Proudhon saw a free society’s productive activity centred around federations of syndicates.
This vision of a federation of workplaces can also be found in Bakunin’s writings: “The future organisation of society must proceed from the bottom up only, through free association or federations of the workers, into their associations to begin with, then into communes, regions, nations and, finally, into a great international and universal federation.” [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 176] Like Proudhon, Bakunin also explicitly rejected the idea of seeking small-scale production, arguing that “if [the workers] tried to divide among themselves the capital that exists, they would . . . reduce to a large decree its productive power.” Therefore the need was for “the collective property of capital” to ensure “the emancipation of labour and of the workers.“ [The Basic Bakunin, p. 91] Bakunin, again like Proudhon, considered that “[i]ntelligent free labour will necessarily be associated labour” as under capitalism the worker “works for others” and her labour is “bereft of liberty, leisure and intelligence.” Under anarchism, “the free productive associations” would become “their own masters and the owners of the necessary capital” and “amalgamate among themselves” and “sooner or later” will “expand beyond national frontiers” and “form one vast economic federation.” [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, pp. 81-3]
Nor can such a vision be attributed to Kropotkin. While, of course, supporting decentralisation of power and decision making as did Proudhon and Bakunin, he did not reject the necessity of federations to co-ordinate activity. As he put it, the “commune of tomorrow will know that it cannot admit any higher authority; above it there can only be the interests of the Federation, freely accepted by itself as well as the other communes”. For anarchists the commune “no longer means a territorial agglomeration; it is rather a generic name, a synonym for the grouping of equals which knows neither frontiers nor walls . . . Each group in the Commune will necessarily be drawn towards similar groups in other communes; they will come together and the links that federate them will be as solid as those that attach them to their fellow citizens.” [Words of a Rebel, p. 83 and p. 88] Nor did he reject industry or machinery, stating he “understood the poetry of machinery” and that while in “our present factories, machinery work is killing for the worker” this was “a matter of bad organisation, and has nothing to do with the machine itself.” [Memiors of a Revolutionist, p. 111]
Kropotkin’s vision was one of federations of decentralised communities in which production would be based on the “scattering of industries over the country — so as to bring the factory amidst the fields . . . agriculture . . . combined with industry . . . to produce a combination of industrial with agricultural work.” He considered this as “surely the next step to be made, as soon as a reorganisation of our present conditions is possible” and “is imposed by the very necessity of producing for the producers themselves.“ [Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, pp. 157-8] He based this vision on a detailed analysis of current economic statistics and trends.
Kropotkin did not see such an anarchist economy as being based around the small community, taking the basic unit of a free society as one “large enough to dispose of a certain variety of natural resources — it may be a nation, or rather a region — produces and itself consumes most of its own agricultural and manufactured produce.” Such a region would “find the best means of combining agriculture with manufacture — the work in the field with a decentralised industry.” Moreover, he recognised that the “geographical distribution of industries in a given country depends . . . to a great extent upon a complexus of natural conditions; it is obvious that there are spots which are best suited for the development of certain industries . . . The[se] industries always find some advantages in being grouped, to some extent, according to the natural features of separate regions.” [Op. Cit., p. 26, p. 27 and pp. 154-5]
He stressed that agriculture “cannot develop without the aid of machinery and the use of a perfect machinery cannot be generalised without industrial surroundings . . . The village smith would not do.” He supported the integration of agriculture and industry, with “the factory and workshop at the gates of your fields and gardens” in which a “variety of agricultural, industrial and intellectual pursuits are combined in each community” to ensure “the greatest sum total of well-being.” He thought that “large establishments” would still exist, but these would be “better placed at certain spots indicated by Nature.” He stressed that it “would be a great mistake to imagine industry ought to return to its hand-work stage in order to be combined with agriculture. Whenever a saving of human labour can be obtained by means of a machine, the machine is welcome and will be resorted to; and there is hardly one single branch of industry into which machinery work could not be introduced with great advantage, at least at some of the stages of the manufacture.” [Op. Cit., p. 156, p. 197, p. 18, pp. 154-5 and pp. 151-2]
Clearly Kropotkin was not opposed to large-scale industry for “if we analyse the modern industries, we soon discover that for some of them the co-operation of hundred, even thousands, of workers gathered at the same spot is really necessary. The great iron works and mining enterprises decidedly belong to that category; oceanic steamers cannot be built in village factories.” However, he stressed that this objective necessity was not the case in many other industries and centralised production existed in these purely to allow capitalists “to hold command of the market” and “to suit the temporary interests of the few — by no means those of the nation.” Kropotkin made a clear division between economic tendencies which existed to aid the capitalist to dominate the market and enhance their profits and power and those which indicated a different kind of future. Once we consider the “moral and physical advantages which man would derive from dividing his work between field and the workshop” we must automatically evaluate the structure of modern industry with the criteria of what is best for the worker (and society and the environment) rather than what was best for capitalist profits and power. [Op. Cit., p. 153, p. 147 and p. 153]
Clearly, Leninist summaries of Kropotkin’s ideas on this subject are nonsense. Rather than seeing “small-scale” production as the basis of his vision of a free society, he saw production as being geared around the economic unit of a nation or region: “Each region will become its own producer and its own consumer of manufactured goods . . . [and] its own producer and consumer of agricultural produce.” Industry would come to the village “not in its present shape of a capitalist factory” but “in the shape of a socially organised industrial production, with the full aid of machinery and technical knowledge.” [Op. Cit., p. 40 and p. 151]
Industry would be decentralised and integrated with agriculture and based around communes, but these communes would be part of a federation and so production would be based around meeting the needs of these federations. A system of rational decentralisation would be the basis of Kropotkin’s communist-anarchism, with productive activity and a free society’s workplaces geared to the appropriate level. For those forms of industry which would be best organised on a large-scale would continue to be so organised, but for those whose current (i.e., capitalist) structure had no objective need to be centralised would be broken up to allow the transformation of work for the benefit of both workers and society. Thus we would see a system of workplaces geared to local and district needs complementing larger factories which would meet regional and wider needs.
Anarchism rejects the idea of small-scale production and isolated communes and, as we discussed in section H.2.3  , it does not look backwards for its ideal. The same applies to other forms of libertarian socialism with, for example, G.D.H. Cole arguing that we “cannot go back to ‘town economy’, a general regime of handicraft and master-craftmanship, tiny-scale production. We can neither pull up our railways, fill our mines, and dismantle our factories nor conduct our large-scale enterprises under a system developed to fit the needs of a local market and a narrowly-restricted production.” The aim is “to reintroduce into industry the communal spirit, by re-fashioning industrialism in such a way as to set the communal motives free to co-operate.” [Guild Socialism Restated, pp. 45-6 and p. 46]
The obvious implication of Leninist comments arguments against anarchist ideas on industrial transformation after a revolution is that they think that a socialist society will basically be the same as capitalism, using the technology, industry and industrial structure developed under class society without change (as noted in section H.3.12  , Lenin did suggest that was the case). Needless to say, capitalist industry, as Kropotkin was aware, has not developed neutrally nor purely because of technical needs. Rather it has been distorted by the twin requirements to maintain capitalist profits and power. One of the first tasks of a social revolution will be to transform the industrial structure, not keep it as it is. You cannot use capitalist means for socialist ends. So while we will “inherit” an industrial structure from capitalism it would be the greatest possible error to leave it unchanged and an even worse one to accelerate the processes by which capitalists maintain and increase their power (i.e. centralisation and concentration) in the name of “socialism.”
We are sorry to have laboured this point, but this issue is one which arises with depressing frequency in Marxist accounts of anarchism. It is best that we indicate that those who make the claim that anarchists seek “small scale” production geared for “small autonomous communities” simply show their ignorance. In actuality, anarchists see production as being geared to whatever makes most social, economic and ecological sense. Some production and workplaces will be geared to the local commune, some will be geared to the district federation, some to the regional federation, and so on. It is for this reason anarchists support the federation of workers’ associations as the means of combining local autonomy with the needs for co-ordination and joint activity. To claim otherwise is simply to misrepresent anarchist theory.
Finally, it must be psychologically significant that Leninists continually go on about anarchists advocating “small” and “tiny” workplaces. Apparently size does matter and Leninists think their productive units are much, much bigger than anarchist ones. As has been proven, anarchists advocate appropriately sized workplaces and are not hung-up about their size. Why Leninists are could be a fruitful area of research…